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BYGONE BELIEFS 



WORKS ON 

SCIENCE & PHILOSOPHY 

By 

H. Stanley Redgrove, B.Sc. (Lond.), F.G.s. 



ON THE CALCULATION OF THERMO-CHEMICAL 

CONSTANTS. (Arnold, 1909, demy Svo, 6s. net.) 

MATTER, SPIRIT, AND THE COSMOS : Some Sugges- 

tions towards a better Understanding of the Whence and Why of their 

Existence. (Rider, 1910, crown Svo, 2s. 6d. net ; out of print. ) 

(Popular Edition — Rider, 1916, crown 8vo, is. net.) 

ALCHEMY: ANCIENT AND MODERN. Being a brief 

Account of the Alchemistic Doctrines, and their Relations, to Mysticism on 
the one hand, and to recent Discoveries in Physical Science on the other 
hand, together with some Particulars regarding the Lives and Teachings 
of the most noted Alchemists. 

(Rider, 1911, demy Svo, 4s. 6d. net ; out of print.) 
(American Edition — McKay, demy Svo, $1.50.) 

A MATHEMATICAL THEORY OF SPIRIT. Being an 

Attempt to employ certain Mathematical Principles in the Elucidation of 
some Metaphysical Problems. (Rider, 191 2, large crown Svo, 2s. 6d. net.) 

EXPERIMENTAL MENSURATION: An Elementary 

Text-Book of Inductive Geometry. 

(Heinemann, 1912, crown Svo, 2S. 6d. net.) 

THE MAGIC OF EXPERIENCE : A Contribution to the 
Theory of Knowledge. With an Introduction by Sir W. F, Barrett, 
F.R.S. (Dent, 191 5, crown Svo, 3s. 6d. net.) 

INDUSTRIAL GASES, together with the Liquefaction 

of Gases. By various Authors, including H. S. Redgrove. 

(Crosby Lock wood, 1916, royal Svo, 9s, net.) 

THE INDICTMENT OF WAR. [An Anthology.] Compiled 
by H. S. Redgrove and J. H. Rowbottom. 

(Daniel, 1919, demy Svo, los. 6d. net.) 



PLATE 1. 



Frontispiece. 




Fig. I. 



Symbolic Alchemical Design from Nh-ttus Liber (1677). 



BYGONE BELIEFS 

BEING A SERIES OF 

EXCURSIONS IN THE BYWAYS 

OF THOUGHT 



BY 

H. STANLEY REDGROVE 

B.Sc. (Lond.), F.C.S. 

author of 
"alchemy: ancient and modern" 
"a mathematical theory of shirit" 
"the magic of experience," etc. 



WITH MANY ILLUSTRATIONS 



LONDON 
WILLIAM RIDER ^ SON, LTD. 

8 PATERNOSTER ROW, E.G. 4 
1920 



•»«»» anii Prn m ^wm 



Alle Erfahrung ist Magie, und nur magisch erkldrbar. 

NOVALIS (Friedrich von Hardenberg). 

Everything possible to be believ'd is an image of truth. 

William Blake. 



TO 

MY WIFE 



PREFACE 

These Excursions in the Byways of Thought were 
undertaken at different times and on different occa- 
sions ; consequently, the reader may be able to detect 
in them inequalities of treatment. He may feel that 
I have lingered too long in some byways and hurried 
too rapidly through others, taking, as it were, but a 
general view of the road in the latter case, whilst 
examining everything that could be seen in the former 
with, perhaps, undue care. As a matter of fact, how- 
ever, all these excursions have been undertaken with 
one and the same object in view, that, namely, of 
understanding aright and appreciating at their true 
worth some of the more curious byways along which 
human thought has travelled. It is easy for the 
superficial thinker to dismiss much of the thought 
of the past (and, indeed, of the present) as mere 
superstition, not worth the trouble of investigation : 
but it is not scientific. There is a reason for every 
belief, even the most fantastic, and it should be 
our object to discover this reason. How far, if at 
all, the reason in any case justifies us in holding a 
similar belief is, of course, another question. Some 
of the beliefs I have dealt with I have treated at 
greater length than others, because it seems to me 



X BYGONE BELIEFS 

that the truths of which they are the images — vague 
and distorted in many cases though they be — are 
truths which we have either forgotten nowadays, or 
are in danger of forgetting. We moderns may, in- 
deed, learn something from the thought of the past, 
even in its most fantastic aspects. In one excursion 
at least, namely, the essay on " The Cambridge 
Platonists," I have ventured to deal with a higher 
phase — perhaps I should say the highest phase — of 
the thought of a bygone age, to which the modern 
world may be completely debtor. 

" Some Characteristics of Mediaeval Thought," 
and the two essays on Alchemy, have appeared in 
The Journal of the Alchemical Society, In others I 
have utilised material I have contributed to The 
Occult Review, to the editor of which journal my 
thanks are due for permission so to do. I have also 
to express my gratitude to the Rev. A. H. Collins, 
and others to be referred to in due course, for per- 
mission here to reproduce illustrations of which 
they are the copyright holders. I have further to 
offer my hearty thanks to Mr B. R. Rowbottom 
and my wife for valuable assistance in reading the 
proofs. 

H. S. R. 

Bletchley, Bucks, 
December 191 9. 



CONTENTS 



Preface 

List of Illustrations ..... 

1. Some Characteristics of Medieval Thought 

2. Pythagoras and his Philosophy 

3. Medicine and Magic .... 

4. Superstitions concerning Birds 

5. The Powder of Sympathy : a Curious Medical 

Superstition 

6. The Belief in Talismans 

7. Ceremonial Magic in Theory and Practice 

8. Architectural Symbolism 

9. The Quest of the Philosopher's Stone 

10. The Phallic Element in Alchemical Doctrine 

11. Roger Bacon : an Appreciation 

12. The Cambridge Platonists 



PAGE 

ix 



Xlll 

I 
8 

25 
34 

47 

57 

87 

III 

121 
149 
183 
193 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

FIG. 

1. Symbolic Alchemical Design 

from Miittis Liber (1677) . Plate i, frontispiece 

2. Frontispiece to Glanvil's Sa- 

ducismtis Triumphatus (1700) , 
illustrating Superstitions con- 
cerning Witchcraft, e/c. . ,, 2, to face p. 4 

3. Diagram to illustrate the Theo- 

rem of Pythagoras . ,, 3, ,. 10 

4-8. Diagrams for constructing 
the Regular (or Platonic) 
Solids .... 

9. The Pentagram ... 

10. Reduced Fascimilc of a Page 

of the Papyrus Ebers . Plate 

11. Paracelsus (aged 24), from a 

Painting by Scorel (1517), 

now in the Louvre Gallery . ,, 6, ,, 28 

12. Barnacle Geese, from Ger- 

arde's Herball (1597) . ,,?,,, 40 

13. The Fung Hwang, according to 

the 'Rh Ya, from Gould's 

Mythical Monsters . . ,, 8, ,, 44 

14. Harpy, from Vlyssis Aldro- 

VANDi's Monstrorum Historia 

(1642) .... „ 7, „ 40 

15. Sir Kenelm Digby, from an 

engraved Portrait by Hou- 

braken, after Vandyke . ,, 9, ,. 48 

16. James Howell, from an en- 

graved Portrait by Claude 

Melan and Abraham Bosse ,, 10, ,, 50 



4. 


18 


• p- 


19 


5, to face p. 


26 



xiv BYGONE BELIEFS 

FIG. 

17. Nathanael Highmore, M.D., 

from an engraved Portrait by 

A. Blooteling . . . Fl ATE 11, to face p. 52 

18. Francis Bacon, from the Fron- 

tispiece to his Sylva Syl- 

varum (6th edition, 1651) . ,, 12, ,, 54 

19 and 20. " Abracadabra " Amu- 
lets . . . . . . , p. 61 

21. The First Pentacle of the Sun, 

from Clavicula Salomonis . . . . ,, 66 

22. The Fifth Pentacle of Mars, 

from Clavicula Salomonis . . ■ . . ,, 67 

23. The Third Pentacle of the 

Moon, from Clavicula Salo- 
monis . . . . . . . ,, 68 

24. The Third Pentacle of Venus, 

from Clavicula Salomonis . . . . ,, 69 

25. The Third Pentacle of Mer- 

cury, from Clavicula Salo- 
monis .... . . . ,, 70 

26-28. The Seals of Mars, his In- 
telligence, and his Spirit, 
from Barrett's Magus 
(1801) .... Fl ATE 1^, to face p. 72 

29. The Talisman of Mars, from 

Barrett's Magus . . ,, 13, ,. 72 

30. The Pentagram embellished ac- 

cording to Eliphas L^vi . „ 14, ,, 74 

31. The Hexagram, or Seal of 

Solomon, embellished ac- 
cording to £liphas L:6vi . .,14, ., 74 

32. Magical Circle, from The Lesser 

Key of Solomon the King . ,,15, ,, 98 

33. Magical Instruments — Lamp, 

Rod, Sword, and Dagger — 

according to Iiliphas L^vi . ,, 16, ,, 102 

34. Agnus Dei, Sixteenth-century 

Font, Southfleet, Kent, from 
Collins' Symbolism of 
Animals .... ,,17, ,, 112 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS xv 



FIG. 



35. Unicorn, Sixteenth - century 

Font, Southfleet, Kent, from 
Collins' Symbolism of 
Animals .... Fl ate ly, to face p. 112 

36. Pelican in her Piety, inset in 

Pulpit, Aldington, Kent, 
from Collins' Symbolism of 
Animals . . . . ,, 18, ,, 114 

37. Twelfth-century South Door, 

Barfeston Church, Kent, 
showing Griffin and other 
Sjonbols, from Collins' 
Symbolism of Animals . ,, 18, ,, 114 

38. Western Doorway of Port- 

chest er Church, Hants, show- 
ing Sagittarius and Pisces, 
from a Photograph . . ,,19, ,, 116 

39. Centaur, from Vlyssis Aldro- 

VANDi's Monstrorum Historia 

(1642) .... ,,20, „ n8 

40. Mantichora, from A Descrip- 

tion of Three Hundred A nimals 

(1730) .... ,,20, „ 118 

41 and 42. Symbolic Representa- 
tions of the Alchemical 
Principle of Purification by 
Putrefaction, from " Basil 
VALENTmE's" Twelve Keys ,, 21, ,, 140 

43. Symbolic Alchemical Design 

illustrating the Conjunction 
of Brother and Sister, from 
Michael Maier's Atalanta 
Fugiens (1617) ... ,, 22, ,, 170 

44. Symbolic Alchemical Design 

illustrating Lactation, from 

Maier's Atalanta Fugiens . ,, 23, ,, 172 

45. Symbolic Alchemical Design 

illustrating the Conjunction 
of Gold and Silver (or Sun 
and Moon), from Maier's 
Atalanta Fugiens . . ,, 24, „ 174 



xvi BYGONE BELIEFS 

FIG. 

46. Symbolic Alchemical Design 

from Mutus Liber (1677) . Plate 25, io face p. 176 

47. Symbolic Alchemical Design 

illustrating the Work of 
Woman, from Maier's Ata- 
lanta Fugiens . . . ,,26, ,, 178 

48. Symbolic Alchemica Design, 

Hermaphrodite,from Maier's 

Atalanta Fugiens . . ,. 27, ,, 180 

49. Roger Bacon presenting a 

Book to a King, from a 
Fifteenth-century Miniature 
in the Bodleian Library, 
Oxford .... ,,28, „ 184 

50. Roger Bacon, from a Portrait 

in Knole Castle ... ,, 29, ,, 188 

51. Benjamin Whichcote, from 

an engraved Portrait by 

Robert White . . „ 30, „ 194 

52. Henry More, from a Portrait 

by David Loggan, engraved 

ad vivum, 1679 . . . ,,3^, ,, 198 

53. Ralph Cud worth, from an en- 

graved Portrait by Vertue, 
after Loggan, forming the 
Frontispiece to Cudworth's 
Treatise Concerning Morality 
(1731) . . . '. „ 32, „ 200 



BYGONE BELIEFS 
I 

SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF 
MEDIAEVAL THOUGHT 

In the earliest days of his upward evolution man was 
satisfied with a very crude explanation of natural 
phenomena— that to which the name " animism " 
has been given. In this stage of mental develop- 
ment all the various forces of Nature are personified : 
the rushing torrent, the devastating fire, the wind 
rustling the forest leaves — in the mind of the animistic 
savage all these are personalities, spirits, like him- 
self, but animated by motives more or less antagon- 
istic to him. 

I suppose that no possible exception could be taken 
to the statement that modern science renders animism 
impossible. But let us inquire in exactly what sense 
this is true. It is not true that science robs natural 
phenomena of their spiritual significance. The mis- 
take is often made of supposing that science explains, 
or endeavours to explain, phenomena. But that 
is the business of philosophy. The task science 
attempts is the simpler one of the correlation of 
natural phenomena, and in this effort leaves the 
ultimate problems of metaphysics untouched. A 
universe, however, whose phenomena are not only 



2 BYGONE BELIEFS 

capable of some degree of correlation, but present 
the extraordinary degree of harmony and unity 
which science makes manifest in Nature, cannot be, 
as in animism, the product of a vast number of inco- 
ordinated and antagonistic wills, but must either be 
the product of one Will, or not the product of will 
at all. 

The latter alternative means that the Cosmos is 
inexplicable, which not only man's growing experi- 
ence, but the fact that man and the universe form 
essentially a unity, forbid us to believe. The term 
" anthropomorphic " is too easily applied to philo- 
sophical systems, as if it constituted a criticism of 
their validity. For if it be true, as all must admit, 
that the unknown can only be explained in terms of 
the known, then the universe must either be ex- 
plained in terms of man — i.e. in terms of will or 
desire — or remain incomprehensible. That is to 
say, a philosophy must either be anthropomorphic, 
or no philosophy at all. 

Thus a metaphysical scrutiny of the results of 
modern science leads us to a belief in God. But man 
felt the need of unity, and crude animism, though a 
step in the right direction, failed to satisfy his thought, 
long before the days of modern science. The spirits 
of animism, however, were not discarded, but were 
modified, co-ordinated, and worked into a system as 
servants of the Most High. Polytheism may mark 
a stage in this process ; or, perhaps, it was a result 
of mental degeneracy. 

What I may term systematised as distinguished 
from crude animism persisted throughout the Middle 
Ages. The work of systematisation had already been 



MEDI/^VAL THOUGHT 3 

accomplished, to a large extent, by the Neo-Platonists 
and whoever were responsible for the Kabala. It is 
true that these main sources of magical or animistic 
philosophy remained hidden during the greater part 
of the Middle Ages ; but at about their close the 
youthful and enthusiastic Cornelius Agrippa (1486- 
1535) ^ slaked his thirst thereat and produced his 
own attempt at the systematisation of magical belief 
in the famous Three Books of Occult Philosophy. But 
the waters of magical philosophy reached the medi- 
aeval mind through various devious channels, tradi- 
tional on the one hand and literary on the other. 
And of the latter, the works of pseudo-DiONYSius,^ 
whose immense influence upon mediaeval thought 
has sometimes been neglected, must certainly be 
noted. 

The most obvious example of a mediaeval animistic 
belief is that in " elementals " — the spirits which 
personify the primordial forces of Nature, and are 
symbolised by the four elements, immanent in which 
they were supposed to exist, and through which they 
were held to manifest their powers. And astrology, 
it must be remembered, is essentially a systematised 

1 The story of his Hfc has been admirably told by Henry 
MoRLEY (2 vols., 1856). 

^ These writings were first heard of in the early part of the 
sixth century, and were probably the work of a Syrian monk 
of that date, who fathered them on to Dionysius the Areo- 
pagite as a pious fraud. See Dean Inge's Christian Mysticism 
(1899), pp. 104-T22, and Vaughan's Hours ivith the Mystics 
(7th ed., 1895), vol. i. pp. 111-124. The books have been 
translated into English by the Rev. John Parker (2 vols., 
1897-1899), who believes in the genuineness of their alleged 
authorship. 



4 BYGONE BELIEFS 

animism. The stars, to the ancients, were not 
material bodies Hke the earth, but spiritual beings. 
Plato (427-347 b.c.) speaks of them as " gods ". 
Mediaeval thought did not regard them in quite this 
way. But for those who believed in astrology, and 
few, I think, did not, the stars were still symbols of 
spiritual forces operative on man. Evidences of the 
wide extent of astrological belief in those days are 
abundant, many instances of which we shall doubt- 
less encounter in our excursions. 

It has been said that the theological and philo- 
sophical atmosphere of the Middle Ages was '' schol- 
astic," not mystical. No doubt " mysticism," as a 
mode of life aiming at the realisation of the presence 
of God, is as distinct from scholasticism as empiri- 
cism is from rationalism, or " tough-minded " philo- 
sophy (to use James' happy phrase) is from " tender- 
minded ". But no philosophy can be absolutely and 
purely deductive. It must start from certain empiri- 
cally determined facts. A man might be an extreme 
empiricist in religion {i.e. a mystic), and yet might 
attempt to deduce all other forms of knowledge from 
the results of his religious experiences, never caring 
to gather experience in any other realm. Hence the 
breach between mysticism and scholasticism is not 
really so wide as may appear at first sight. Indeed, 
scholasticism officially recognised three branches of 
theology, of which the mystical was one. I think 
that mysticism and scholasticism both had a pro- 
found influence on the mediaeval mind, sometimes 
acting as opposing forces, sometimes operating har- 
moniously with one another. As Professor Windel- 
BAND puts it : " We no longer onesidedly characterise 



To face p. 4. 



PLATE 2. 




Fig. 2. 

Frontispiece to Glaxvil"s Saducismits Triiiinphatus (3rd edition, 1700), 
illustrating Superstitions concerning Witchcraft, etc. 



MEDIEVAL THOUGHT 5 

the philosophy of the middle ages as scholasticism, 
but rather place mysticism beside it as of equal rank, 
and even as being the more fruitful and promising 
movement." ^ 

Alchemy, with its four Aristotelian or scholastic 
elements and its three mystical principles — sulphur, 
mercury, salt,^must be cited as the outstanding pro- 
duct of the combined influence of mysticism and 
scholasticism : of mysticism, which postulated the 
unity of the Cosmos, and hence taught that every- 
thing natural is the expressive image and type of some 
supernatural reality ; of scholasticism, which taught 
men to rely upon deduction and to restrict experi- 
mentation to the smallest possible limits. 

The mind naturally proceeds from the known, or 

from what is supposed to be known, to the unknown. 

Indeed, as I have already indicated, it must so proceed 

if truth is to be gained. Now what did the men pi 

the Middle Ages regard as falling into the category 

of the known ? Why, surely, the truths of revealed 

religion, whether accepted upon authority or upon 

the evidence of their own experience. The realm of 

spiritual and moral reality: there, they felt, they were 

on firm ground. Nature was a realm unknown ; 

but they had analogy to guide, or, rather, misguide 

them. Nevertheless if, as we know, it misguided, 

this was not, I think, because the mystical doctrine 

of the correspondence between the spiritual and the 

natural is unsound, but because these ancient seekers 

into Nature's secrets knew so little, and so frequently 

misapplied what they did know. So alchemical 

^ Professor Wilhelm Windelband, Ph.D. : " Present-Day 
Mysticism," The Quest, vol. iv. (1913), p. 205. 



6 BYGONE BELIEFS 

philosophy arose and became systematised, with its 
wonderful endeavour to perfect the base metals by 
the Philosopher's Stone — the concentrated Essence 
of Nature, — as man's soul is perfected through the 
life-giving power of Jesus Christ. 

I want, in conclusion to these brief introductory 
remarks, to say a few words concerning phallicism 
in connection with my topic. For some " tender- 
minded " ^ and, to my thought, obscure, reason the 
subject is tabooed. Even the British Museum 
does not include works on phallicism in its 
catalogue, and special permission has to be ob- 
tained to consult them. Yet the subject is of vast 
importance as concerns the origin and development 
of religion and philosophy, and the extent of phallic 
worship may be gathered from the widespread occur- 
rence of obelisks and similar objects amongst ancient 
relics. Our own maypole dances may be instanced 
as one survival of the ancient worship of the male 
generative principle. 

What could be more easy to understand than that, 
when man first questioned as to the creation of the 
earth, he should suppose it to have been generated 
by some process analogous to that which he saw 
held in the case of man ? How else could he account 
for its origin, if knowledge must proceed from the 
known to the unknown ? No one questions at all 
that the worship of the human generative organs as 
symbols of the dual generative principle of Nature 
degenerated into orgies of the most frightful charac- 
ter, but the view of Nature which thus degenerated 

' I here use the term with the extended meaning Mr H. G. 
Wells has gi\'en to it. See The New Machiavelli. 



MEDIi^VAL THOUGHT 7 

is not, I think, an altogether unsound one, and very 
interesting remnants of it are to be found in mediaeval 
philosophy. 

These remnants are very marked in alchemy. 
The metals, as I have suggested, are there regarded 
as types of man ; hence they are produced from seed, 
through the combination of male and female prin- 
ciples — mercury and sulphur, w^hich on the spiritual 
plane are intelligence and love. The same is true of 
that Stone which is perfect Man. As Bernard of 
Trevisan (1406- 1 490) wrote in the fifteenth century : 
" This Stone then is compounded of a Body and 
Spirit, or of a volatile and fixed Substance, and that 
is therefore done, because nothing in the World can 
be generated and brought to light without these two 
Substances, to wit, a Male and Female : From 
whence it appeareth, that although these two Sub- 
stances are not of one and the same species, yet one 
Stone doth thence arise, and although they appear 
and are said to be two Substances, yet in truth it is 
but one, to wit, Argent-vive ." ^ No doubt this 
sounds fantastic ; but with all their seeming in- 
tellectual follies these old thinkers were no fools. 
The fact of sex is the most fundamental fact of the 
universe, and is a spiritual and physical as well as a 
physiological fact. I shall deal with the subject 
as concerns the speculations of the alchemists in 
some detail in a later excursion. 

^ Bernard, Earl of Trevisan : A Treatise of the Philo- 
sopher's Stone, 1683. (See Collectanea Chymica : A Collection 
of Ten Several Treatises in Chemistry, 1684, p. 91.) 



II 

PYTHAGORAS AND HIS 
PHILOSOPHY 

It is a matter for enduring regret that so little is 
known to us concerning Pythagoras. What little 
we do know serves but to enhance for us the interest 
of the man and his philosophy, to make him, in many 
ways, the most attractive of Greek thinkers ; and, 
basing our estimate on the extent of his influence on 
the thought of succeeding ages, we recognise in him 
one of the world's master-minds. 

Pythagoras was born about 582 b.c. at Samos, 
one of the Grecian isles. In his youth he came in 
contact with Thales — the Father of Geometry, as 
he is well called, — and though he did not become a 
member of Thales' school, his contact with the latter 
no doubt helped to turn his mind towards the study 
of geometry. This interest found the right ground 
for its development in Egypt, which he visited when 
still young. Egypt is generally regarded as the 
birthplace of geometry, the subject having, it is 
supposed, been forced on the minds of the Egyptians 
by the necessity of fixing the boundaries of lands 
against the annual overflowing of the Nile. But the 
Egyptians were what is called an essentially practical 

8 



PYTHAGORAS AND HIS PHH.OSOPHY 9 

people, and their geometrical knowledge did not 
extend beyond a few empirical rules useful for fixing 
these boundaries and in constructing their temples. 
Striking evidence of this fact is supplied by the 
Ahmes papyrus, compiled some little time before 
1700 B.C. from an older work dating from about 3400 
B.C.,^ a papyrus which almost certainly represents 
the highest mathematical knowledge reached by the 
Egyptians of that day. Geometry is treated very super- 
ficially and as of subsidiary interest to arithmetic ; 
there is no ordered series of reasoned geometrical 
propositions given — nothing, indeed, beyond isolated 
rules, and of these some are wanting in accuracy. 

One geometrical fact known to the Egyptians was 
that if a triangle be constructed having its sides 3, 4, 
and 5 units long respectively, then the angle opposite 
the longest side is exactly a right angle ; and the 
Egyptian builders used this rule for constructing 
walls perpendicular to each other, employing a cord 
graduated in the required manner. The Greek 
mind was not, however, satisfied with the bald state- 
ment of mere facts — it cared little for practical appli- 
cations, but sought above all for the underlying 
reason of everything. Nowadays we are beginning 
to realise that the results achieved by this type of 
mind, the general laws of Nature's behaviour formu- 
lated by its endeavours, are frequently of immense 
practical importance — of far more importance than 
the mere rules-of-thumb beyond which so-called 

^ See August Eisenlohr: Ein mathcmatisches Handbuch 
der alien Aegypier (1877) ; J. Gow : A Short History of Greek 
Mathematics (1884) ; and V. E. Johnson : Egyptian Science 
from the Monuments and Ancient Books (1891). 



10 BYGONE BELIEFS 

practical minds never advance. The classic example 
of the utility of seemingly useless know^ledge is 
afforded by Sir William Hamilton's discovery, or, 
rather, invention of Quarternions, but no better 
example of the utilitarian triumph of the theoretical 
over the so-called practical mind can be adduced 
than that afforded by Pythagoras. Given this rule 
for constructing a right angle, about whose reason 
the Egyptian who used it never bothered himself, 
and the mind of Pythagoras, searching for its full 
significance, made that gigantic geometrical discovery 
which is to this day known as the Theorem of 
Pythagoras — the law that in every right-angled 
triangle the square on the side opposite the right 
angle is equal in area to the sum of the squares on the 
other two sides. ^ The importance of this discovery 
can hardly be overestimated. It is of fundamental 
importance in most branches of geometry, and the 
basis of the whole of trigonometry — the special branch 
of geometry that deals with the practical mensuration 
of triangles. Euclid devoted the whole of the first 
book of his Elements of Geometry to establishing the 
truth of this theorem ; how Pythagoras demon- 
strated it we unfortunately do not know. 

1 Fig. 3 affords an interesting practical demonstration of 
the truth of this theorem. If the reader will copy this figure, 
cut out the squares on the two shorter sides of the triangle 
and divide them along the lines AD, BE, EF, he will find that 
the five pieces so obtained can be made exactly to fit the square 
on the longest side as sliown by the dotted lines. The size and 
shape of the triangle ABC, so long as it has a right angle at C, 
is immaterial. The lines AD, BE are obtained by continuing 
the sides of the square on the side AB, i.e. the side opposite 
the right angle, and EF is drawn at right angles to BE. 



To face p. lo. 



PLATE 3. 




Fig. 3. 
Diagram to illustrate the Theorem of Pythagoras. 



PYTHAGORAS AND HIS PHILOSOPHY ii 

After absorbing what knowledge was to be gained 
in Egypt, Pythagoras journeyed to Babylon, where 
he probably came into contact with even greater 
traditions and more potent influences and sources of 
knowledge than in Egypt, for there is reason for 
believing that the ancient Chaldeans were the builders 
of the Pyramids and in many ways the intellectual 
superiors of the Egyptians. 

At last, after having travelled still further East, 
probably as far as India, Pythagoras returned to 
his birthplace to teach the men of his native land the 
knowledge he had gained. But Crcesus was tyrant 
over Samos, and so oppressive was his rule that 
none had leisure in which to learn. Not a student 
came to Pythagoras, until, in despair, so the story 
runs, he oflPered to pay an artisan if he would but 
learn geometry. The man accepted, and later, when 
Pythagoras pretended inability any longer to con- 
tinue the payments, he offered, so fascinating did he 
find the subject, to pay his teacher instead if the 
lessons might only be continued. Pythagoras no 
doubt was much gratified at this ; and the motto he 
adopted for his great Brotherhood, of which we shall 
make the acquaintance in a moment, was in all likeli- 
hood based on this event. It ran, " Honour a figure 
and a step before a figure and a tribolus " ; or, as a 
freer translation renders it : — 

" A figure and a step onward : 
Not a figure and a florin." 

*' At all events," as Mr Frankland remarks, " the 
motto is a lasting witness to a very singular devotion 
to knowledge for its own sake." ^ 
^ W. B. Frankland, M.A. : The Story of Euclid (1902), p. 33. 



12 BYGONE BELIEFS 

But Pythagoras needed a greater audience than 
one man, however enthusiastic a pupil he might be, 
and he left Samos for Southern Italy, the rich in- 
habitants of whose cities had both the leisure and 
inclination to study. Delphi, far-famed for its 
Oracles, was visited en route, and Pythagoras, after 
a sojourn at Tarentum, settled at Croton, where he 
gathered about him a great band of pupils, mainly 
young people of the aristocratic class. By consent 
of the Senate of Croton, he formed out of these a 
great philosophical brotherhood, whose members 
lived apart from the ordinary people, forming, as it 
were, a separate community. They were bound to 
Pythagoras by the closest ties of admiration and 
reverence, and, for years after his death, discoveries 
made by Pythagoreans were invariably attributed to 
the Master, a fact which makes it very difficult ex- 
actly to gauge the extent of Pythagoras' own know- 
ledge and achievements. The regime of the Brother- 
hood, or Pythagorean Order, was a strict one, entail- 
ing " high thinking and low living " at all times. A 
restricted diet, the exact nature of which is in dispute, 
was observed by all members, and long periods of 
silence, as conducive to deep thinking, were imposed 
on novices. Women were admitted to the Order, 
and Pythagoras' asceticism did not prohibit ro- 
mance, for we read that one of his fair pupils won her 
way to his heart, and, declaring her affection for him, 
found it reciprocated and became his wife. 

ScHURi: writes : *' By his marriage with Theano, 
Pythagoras affixed the seal of realisation to his work. 
The union and fusion of the two lives was complete. 
One day when the master's wife was asked what 



PYTHAGORAS AND HIS PHH.OSOPHY 13 

length of time elapsed before a woman could become 
pure after intercourse with a man, she replied : ' If it 
is with her husband, she is pure all the time ; if with 
another man, she is never pure.' " " Many women," 
adds the writer, " would smilingly remark that to 
give such a reply one must be the wife of Pytha- 
goras, and love him as Theano did. And they would 
be in the right, for it is not marriage that sanctifies 
love, it is love which justifies marriage." ^ 

Pythagoras was not merely a mathematician : he 
was first and foremost a philosopher, whose philo- 
sophy found in number the basis of all things, be- 
cause number, for him, alone possessed stability of 
relationship. As I have remarked on a former occa- 
sion, ** The theory that the Cosmos has its origin 
and explanation in Number ... is one for which 
it is not difficult to account if we take into considera- 
tion the nature of the times in which it was formu- 
lated. The Greek of the period, looking upon 
Nature, beheld no picture of harmony, uniformity 
and fundamental unity. The outer world appeared 
to him rather as a discordant chaos, the mere sport 
and plaything of the gods. The theory of the uni- 
formity of Nature — that Nature is ever like to herself 
— the very essence of the modern scientific spirit, had 
yet to be born of years of unwearied labour and un- 
ceasing delving into Nature's innermost secrets. 
Only in Mathematics — in the properties of geometri- 
cal figures, and of numbers — was the reign of law, 
the principle of harmony, perceivable. Even at this 
present day when the marvellous has become com- 

^ Edouard Schure : Pythagoras and the Delphic Mysteries, 
trans, by F, Rothwell, B.x\. (1906), pp. 164 and 165. 



14 BYGONE BELIEFS 

monplace, that property of right-angled triangles . . . 
already discussed . . . comes to the mind as a re- 
markable and notable fact : it must have seemed a 
stupendous marvel to its discoverer, to whom, it 
appears, the regular alternation of the odd and even 
numbers, a fact so obvious to us that we are inclined to 
attach no importance to it, seemed, itself, to be some- 
thing wonderful . Here in Geometry and Arithmetic, 
here was order and harmony unsurpassed and un- 
surpassable. What wonder then that Pythagoras 
concluded that the solution of the mighty riddle of 
the Universe was contained in the mysteries of 
Geometry ? What wonder that he read mystic mean- 
ings into the laws of Arithmetic, and believed Number 
to be the explanation and origin of all that is ? " ^ 

No doubt the Pythagorean theory suffers from a 
defect similar to that of the Kabalistic doctrine, which, 
starting from the fact that all words are composed of 
letters, representing the primary sounds of language, 
maintained that all the things represented by these 
words were created by God by means of the twenty- 
two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. But at the same 
time the Pythagorean theory certainly embodies a 
considerable element of truth. Modern science 
demonstrates nothing more clearly than the impor- 
tance of numerical relationships. Indeed, *' the 
history of science shows us the gradual transforma- 
tion of crude facts of experience into increasingly 
exact generalisations by the application to them of 
mathematics. The enormous advances that have 
been made in recent years in physics and chemistry 
are very largely due to mathematical methods of 

^ A Mathematical Theory of Spirit (1912), pp. 64-65. 



PYTHAGORAS AND HIS PHILOSOPHY 15 

interpreting and co-ordinating facts experimentally 
revealed, whereby further experiments have been 
suggested, the results of which have themselves 
been mathematically interpreted. Both physics and 
chemistry, especially the former, are now highly 
mathematical. In the biological sciences and especi- 
ally in psychology it is true that mathematical 
methods are, as yet, not so largely employed. But 
these sciences are far less highly developed, far less 
exact and systematic, that is to say, far less scientific, 
at present, than is either physics or chemistry. How- 
ever, the application of statistical methods promises 
good results, and there are not wanting generalisa- 
tions already arrived at which are expressible mathe- 
matically ; Weber's Law in psychology, and the law 
concerning the arrangement of the leaves about the 
stems of plants in biology, may be instanced as cases 
in point." ^ 

The Pythagorean doctrine of the Cosmos, in 
its most reasonable form, however, is confronted 
with one great difficulty which it seems incapable of 
overcoming, namely, that of continuity. Modern 
science, with its atomic theories of matter and electri- 
city, does, indeed, show us that the apparent con- 
tinuity of material things is spurious, that all 
material things consist of discrete particles, and are 
hence measurable in numerical terms. But modern 
science is also obliged to postulate an ether behind 

1 Quoted from a lecture by the present writer on " The Law 
of Correspondences Mathematically Considered," delivered 
before The Theological and Philosophical Society on 26th April 
1912, and published in Morning Light, vol. xxxv. (1912), p. 434 
ei seq. 



i6 BYGONE BELIEFS 

these atoms, an ether which is wholly continuous, 
and hence transcends the domain of number.^ It is 
true that, in quite recent times, a certain school of 
thought has argued that the ether is also atomic in 
constitution — that all things, indeed, have a grained 
structure, even forces being made up of a large 
number of quantums or indivisible units of force. 
But this view has not gained general acceptance, and 
it seems to necessitate the postulation of an ether 
beyond the ether, filling the interspaces between its 
atoms, to obviate the difficulty of conceiving of action 
at a distance. 

According to Bergson, life — the reality that can 
only be lived, not understood — is absolutely con- 
tinuous {i.e. not amenable to numerical treatment). 
It is because life is absolutely continuous that we 
cannot, he says, understand it ; for reason acts 
discontinuously, grasping only, so to speak, a cine- 
matographic view of life, made up of an immense 
number of instantaneous glimpses. All that passes 
between the glimpses is lost, and so the true whole, 
reason can never synthesise from that which it 
possesses. On the other hand, one might also argue 
— extending, in a way, the teaching of the physical 
sciences of the period between the postulation of 
D Alton's atomic theory and the discovery of the 
significance of the ether of space — that reality is 
essentially discontinuous, our idea that it is continuous 
being a mere illusion arising from the coarseness of 
our senses. That might provide a complete vindi- 

1 Cf. chap, iii., " On Nature as the Embodiment of Number," 
of my A Mathematical Theory of Spirit, to which reference has 
already been made. 



PYTHAGORAS AND HIS PHILOSOPHY 17 

cation of the Pythagorean view ; but a better vindica- 
tion, if not of that theory, at any rate of Pythagoras' 
philosophical attitude, is forthcoming, I think, in the 
fact that modern mathematics has transcended the 
shackles of number, and has enlarged her kingdom, 
so as to include quantities other than numerical. 
Pythagoras, had he been born in these latter cen- 
turies, would surely have rejoiced in this enlarge- 
ment, whereby the continuous as well as the dis- 
continuous is brought, if not under the rule of 
number, under the rule of mathematics indeed. 

Pythagoras' foremost achievement in mathe- 
matics I have already mentioned. Another notable 
piece of work in the same department was the dis- 
covery of a method of constructing a parallelogram 
having a side equal to a given line, an angle equal to 
a given angle, and its area equal to that of a given 
triangle. Pythagoras is said to have celebrated 
this discovery by the sacrifice of a whole ox. The 
problem appears in the first book of Euclid's 
Elements of Geometry as proposition 44. In fact, 
many of the propositions of Euclid's first, second, 
fourth, and sixth books were worked out by Pytha- 
goras and the Pythagoreans ; but, curiously enough, 
they seem greatly to have neglected the geometry of 
the circle. 

The symmetrical solids were regarded by Pytha- 
goras, and by the Greek thinkers after him, as of the 
greatest importance. To be perfectly symmetrical 
or regular, a solid must have an equal number of 
faces meeting at each of its angles, and these faces 
must be equal regular polygons, i.e. figures whose 
sides and angles are all equal. Pythagoras, perhaps, 



1 8 BYGONE BELIEFS 

may be credited with the great discovery that 
there are only five such soHds. These are as 
follows : — 

The Tetrahedron, having four equilateral triangles 
as faces. 

The Cube, having six squares as faces. 

The Octahedron, having eight equilateral triangles 
as faces. 

The Dodecahedron, having twelve regular penta- 
gons (or five-sided figures) as faces. 

The Icosahedron, having twenty equilateral tri- 
angles as faces.^ 

Now, the Greeks believed the world to be com- 
posed of four elements — earth, air, fire, water, — 
and to the Greek mind the conclusion was inevitable^ 
that the shapes of the particles of the elements were 
those of the regular solids. Earth-particles were 
cubical, the cube being the regular solid possessed 
of greatest stability ; fire-particles were tetrahedral, 
the tetrahedron being the simplest and, hence, 
lightest solid. Water-particles were icosahedral for 
exactly the reverse reason, whilst air-particles, as 
intermediate between the two latter, were octahedral. 
The dodecahedron was, to these ancient mathe- 
maticians, the most mysterious of the solids : it was 
by far the most difficult to construct, the accurate 
drawing of the regular pentagon necessitating a rather 

1 If the reader will copy figs. 4 to 8 on cardboard or stiff 
paper, bend each along the dotted lines so as to form a solid, 
fastening together the free edges with gummed paper, he will 
be in possession of models of the five solids in question. 

2 Cf. Plato : The Timcens, §§ xxviii-xxx. 



To face p. i8. 



PLATE 4. 




Tetrahedron. 




Dodecahedron. 

Two FIGURES L/KE TH£ P.eOVE MUST 
BE cur OUT AND FITTED TOGETHER 



Cube. 




Octahedron. 




/cosaheoron. 

Figs. 4-8. 
Diagrams for constructing the Regular (or Platonic) Solids. 



PYTHAGORAS AND HIS PHILOSOPHY 19 

elaborate application of Pythagoras' great theorem.* 
Hence the conclusion, as Plato put it, that '* this 
[the regular dodecahedron] the Deity employed in 
tracing the plan of the Universe." '^ Hence also 
the high esteem in which the pentagon was held by 
the Pythagoreans. By producing each side of this 
latter figure the five-pointed star (fig. 9), known as 




Fig. g. 
The Pentagram. 

the pentagram, is obtained. This was adopted by 
the Pythagoreans as the badge of their Society, and 
for many ages was" held as a symbol possessed of 
magic powers. The mediaeval magicians made use 

^ In reference to this matter Frankland remarks : " In those 
early days the innermost secrets of nature lay in the lap of 
geometry, and the extraordinary inference follows that 
Euclid's Elements, which are devoted to the investigation of 
the regular solids, are therefore in reality and at bottom an 
attempt to ' solve the universe.' Euclid, in fact, made this 
goal of the Pythagoreans the aim of his Elements." — Op. cit., 
p. 35- ^ Op. cit., § xxix. 



20 BYGONE BELIEFS 

of it in their evocations, and as a talisman it was held 
in the highest esteem. 

Music played an important part in the curriculum 
of the Pythagorean Brotherhood, and the important 
discovery that the relations between the notes of 
musical scales can be expressed by means of numbers 
is a Pythagorean one. It must have seemed to its 
discoverer — as, in a sense, it indeed is — a striking 
confirmation of the numerical theory of the Cosmos. 
The Pythagoreans held that the positions of the 
heavenly bodies were governed by similar numerical 
relations, and that in consequence their motion was 
productive of celestial music. This concept of " the 
harmony of the spheres " is among the most cele- 
brated of the Pythagorean doctrines, and has found 
ready acceptance in many mystically-speculative 
minds. " Look how the floor of heaven," says 
Lorenzo in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice — 

"... Look how the floor of heaven 
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold : 
There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st 
But in his motion like an angel sings, 
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins ; 
Such harmony is in immortal souls ; 
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay 
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it." ^ 

Or, as KiNGSLEY writes in one of his letters, *' When 
I walk the fields I am oppressed every now and then 
with an innate feeling that everything I see has a 
meaning, if I could but understand it. And this 
feeling of being surrounded with truths which I 
cannot grasp, amounts to an indescribable awe some- 
1 Act V. scene i. 



PYTHAGORAS AND HIS PHILOSOPHY 21 

times ! Everything seems to be full of God's reflex, 
if we could but see it. Oh ! how I have prayed to 
have the mystery unfolded, at least hereafter. To 
see, if but for a moment, the whole harmony of the 
great system ! To hear once the music which the 
whole universe makes as it performs His bidding ! " ^ 
In this connection may be mentioned the very signi- 
ficant fact that the Pythagoreans did not consider the 
earth, in accordance with current opinion, to be a 
stationary body, but believed that it and the other 
planets revolved about a central point, or fire, as they 
called it. 

As concerns Pythagoras' ethical teaching, judging 
from the so-called Golden Verses attributed to him, 
and no doubt written by one of his disciples,'- this 
would appear to be in some respects similar to that 
of the Stoics who came later, but free from the 
materialism of the Stoic doctrines. Due regard for 
oneself is blended with regard for the gods and for 
other men, the atmosphere of the whole being at once 
rational and austere. One verse — " Thou shalt like- 
wise know, according to Justice, that the nature of 
this Universe is in all things alike " ^ — is of particular 
interest, as showing Pythagoras' belief in that prin- 
ciple of analogy — that " What is below is as that 
which is above, what is above is as that which is 
below " — which held so dominant a sway over the 

1 Charles Kingsley : His Letters and Memories of His 
Life, edited by his wife (1883), p. 28. 

^ It seems probable, though not certain, that Pythagoras 
wrote nothing himself, but taught always by the oral method. 

* Cf. the remarks of Hierocles on this verse in his Com- 
mentary. 



22 BYGONE BELIEFS 

minds of ancient and mediaeval philosophers, leading 
them — in spite, I suggest, of its fundamental truth 
— into so many fantastic errors, as we shall see in 
future excursions. Metempsychosis was another 
of the Pythagorean tenets, a fact which is inter- 
esting in view of the modern revival of this doctrine. 
Pythagoras, no doubt, derived it from the East, 
apparently introducing it for the first time to 
Western thought. 

Such, in brief, were the outstanding doctrines of 
the Pythagorean Brotherhood. Their teachings in- 
cluded, as we have seen, what may justly be called 
scientific discoveries of the first importance, as well 
as doctrines which, though we may feel compelled 
— perhaps rightly — to regard them as fantastic 
now, had an immense influence on the thought of 
succeeding ages, especially on Greek philosophy as 
represented by Plato and the Neo-Platonists, and 
the more speculative minds — the occult philosophers, 
shall I say } — of the latter mediaeval period and suc- 
ceeding centuries. The Brotherhood, however, was 
not destined to continue its days in peace. As I have 
indicated, it was a philosophical, not a political, asso- 
ciation ; but naturally Pythagoras' philosophy in- 
cluded political doctrines. At any rate, the Brother- 
hood acquired a considerable share in the govern- 
ment of Croton, a fact which was greatly resented 
by the members of the democratic party, who feared 
the loss of their rights ; and, urged thereto, it is said, 
by a rejected applicant for membership of the Order, 
the mob made an onslaught on the Brotherhood's 
place of assembly and burnt it to the ground. One 
account has it that Pythagoras himself died in 



PYTHAGORAS AND HIS PHILOSOPHY 23 

the conflagration, a sacrifice to the mad fury of the 
mob. According to another account — and we Hke 
to believe that this is the true one — he escaped to 
Tarentum, from which he was banished, to find 
an asylum in Metapontum, where he Hved his last 
years in peace. 

The Pythagorean Order was broken up, but the 
bonds of brotherhood still existed between its mem- 
bers. " One of them who had fallen upon sickness 
and poverty was kindly taken in by an innkeeper. 
Before dying he traced a few mysterious signs [the 
pentagram, no doubt] on the door of the inn and 
said to the host : ' Do not be uneasy, one of my 
brothers will pay my debts.' A year afterwards, as 
a stranger was passing by this inn he saw the signs 
and said to the host : ' I am a Pythagorean ; one of 
my brothers died here ; tell me what I owe you on 
his account.' " ^ 

In endeavouring to estimate the worth of Pytha- 
goras' discoveries and teaching, Mr Frankland 
writes, with reference to his achievements in geo- 
metry : " Even after making a considerable allowance 
for his pupils' share, the Master's geometrical work 
calls for much admiration " ; and, "... it cannot be 
far wrong to suppose that it was Pythagoras' wont to 
insist upon proofs, and so to secure that rigour which 
gives to mathematics its honourable position amongst 
the sciences." And of his work in arithmetic, music, 
and astronomy, the same author writes : "... every- 
where he appears to have inaugurated genuinely 
scientific methods, and to have laid the foundations 
of a high and liberal education "; adding, " For nearly 
^ Edouard Schure : Op. cit., p. 174. 



24 BYGONE BELIEFS 

a score of centuries, to the very close of the Middle 
Ages, the four Pythagorean subjects of study — arith- 
metic, geometry, astronomy, music — were the staple 
educational course, and were bound together into a 
fourfold way of knowledge — the Quadrivium." ^ 
With these words of due praise, our present excursion 
may fittingly close. 

1 Op. cit., pp. 35, 37, and 38. 



Ill 

MEDICINE AND MAGIC 

There are few tasks at once so instructive and so 
fascinating as the tracing of the development of the 
human mind as manifested in the evolution of 
scientific and philosophical theories. And this is, 
perhaps, especially true when, as in the case of 
medicine, this evolution has followed paths so 
tortuous, intersected by so many fantastic byways, 
that one is not infrequently doubtful as to the true 
road. The history of medicine is at once the history 
of human wisdom and the history of human credulity 
and folly, and the romantic element (to use the ex- 
pression in its popular acceptation) thus introduced, 
whilst making the subject more entertaining, by no 
means detracts from its importance considered 
psychologically. 

To whom the honour of having first invented medi- 
cines is due is unknown, the origins of pharmacy 
being lost in the twilight of myth. Osmis and Isis, 
Bacchus, Apollo father of the famous physician 
iEscuLAPius, and Chiron the Centaur, tutor of the 
latter, are among the many mythological personages 
who have been accredited with the invention of 

25 



26 BYGONE BELIEFS 

physic. It is certain that the art of compounding 
medicines is extraordinarily ancient. There is a 
papyrus in the British Museum containing medical 
prescriptions which was written about 1200 B.C.; 
and the famous Ebers papyrus, which is devoted 
to medical matters, is reckoned to date from about 
the year 1550 B.C. It is interesting to note that 
in the prescriptions given in this latter papyrus, as 
seems to have been the case throughout the history 
of medicine, the principle that the efficacy of a medi- 
cine is in proportion to its nastiness appears to have 
been the main idea. Indeed, many old medicines 
contained ingredients of the most disgusting nature 
imaginable : a mediaeval remedy known as oil of 
puppies, made by cutting up two newly-born puppies 
and boiling them with one pound of live earthworms, 
may be cited as a comparatively pleasant example of 
the remedies (?) used in the days when all sorts of 
excreta were prescribed as medicines.^ 

Presumably the oldest theory concerning the causa- 
tion of disease is that which attributes all the ills of 
mankind to the malignant operations of evil spirits, 
a theory which someone has rather fancifully sug- 
gested is not so erroneous after all, if we may be 
allowed to apply the term " evil spirits " to the 
microbes of modern bacteriology. Remnants of 
this theory (which does — shall I say ? — conceal a 
transcendental truth), that is, in its original form, 
still survive to the present day in various superstitious 
customs, whose absurdity does not need emphasising : 

1 See the late Mr A. C. Wootton's excellent work, 
Chronicles of Pharmacy (2 vols, 1910), to which I gladly 
acknowledge my indebtedness. 



To face p. 26. ^^'^^^ 5. 










Fig. 10. 
Reduced Facsimile of a Page ol the. Papyrus Ebers. 

{By permission oj Messrs Macmillan & Co.) 



MEDICINE AND MAGIC 27 

for example, the use of red flannel by old-fashioned 
folk with which to tie up sore throats — red having 
once been supposed to be a colour very angatonistic 
to evil spirits ; so much so that at one time red cloth 
hung in the patient's room was much employed as a 
cure for smallpox ! 

Medicine and magic have always been closely 
associated. Indeed, the greatest name in the his- 
tory of pharmacy is also what is probably the greatest 
name in the history of magic — the reference, of 
course, being to Paracelsus (1493-1541). Until 
Paracelsus, partly by his vigorous invective and 
partly by his remarkable cures of various diseases, 
demolished the old school of medicine, no one dared 
contest the authority of Galen (130-aVcfl 205) and 
AviCENNA (980-1037). Galen's theory of disease 
was largely based upon that of the four humours in 
man — bile, blood, phlegm, and black bile, — which 
were regarded as related to (but not identical with) 
the four elements — fire, air, water, and earth, — being 
supposed to have characters similar to these. Thus, 
to bile, as to fire, were attributed the properties of 
hotness and dryness ; to blood and air those of hot- 
ness and moistness ; to phlegm and water those of 
coldness and moistness ; and, finally, black bile, like 
earth, was said to be cold and dry. Galen supposed 
that an alteration in the due proportion of these 
humours gives rise to disease, though he did not con- 
sider this to be its only cause ; thus, cancer, it was 
thought, might result from an excess of black bile, 
and rheumatism from an excess of phlegm. Drugs, 
Galen argued, are of efficiency in the curing of 
disease, according as they possess one or more of 



28 BYGONE BELIEFS 

these so-called fundamental properties, hotness, dry- 
ness, coldness, and moistness, whereby it was con- 
sidered that an excess of any humour might be 
counteracted ; moreover, it was further assumed 
that four degrees of each property exist, and that only 
those drugs are of use in curing a disease which con- 
tain the necessary property or properties in the degree 
proportionate to that in which the opposite humour 
or humours are in excess in the patient's system. 

Paracelsus' views were based upon his theory (un- 
doubtedly true in a sense) that man is a microcosm, 
a world in miniature.^ Now, all things material, 
taught Paracelsus, contain the three principles 
termed in alchemistic phraseology salt, sulphur, and 
mercury. This is true, therefore, of man : the 
healthy body, he argued, is a sort of chemical com- 
pound in which these three principles are har- 
moniously blended (as in the Macrocosm) in due 
proportion, whilst disease is due to a preponderance 
of one principle, fevers, for example, being the result 
of an excess of sulphur (i.e. the fiery principle), etc. 
Paracelsus, although his theory was not so diflterent 
from that of Galen, whose views he denounced, was 
thus led to seek for chemical remedies, containing 
these principles in varying proportions ; he was not 
content with medicinal herbs and minerals in their 
crude state, but attempted to extract their effective 
essences ; indeed, he maintained that the preparation 
of new and better drugs is the chief business of 
chemistry. 

This theory of disease and of the efficacy of drugs 

^ See the " Note on the Paracelsian Doctrine of the 
Microcosm " below. 



To face p. 28. 



PLATE 6. 




Fig. II. 

Paracelsus (aged 24), from a Painting by Scorel (1317), now in the 
Louvre Gallery. 



MEDICINE AND MAGIC 29 

was complicated by many fantastic additions ; ^ 
thus there is the '* Archaeus," a sort of benevolent 
demon, supposed by Paracelsus to look after all the 
unconscious functions of the bodily organism, who 
has to be taken into account. Paracelsus also held 
the Doctrine of Signatures, according to which the 
medicinal value of plants and minerals is indicated 
by their external form, or by some sign impressed 
upon them by the operation of the stars. A very 
old example of this belief is to be found in the use of 
mandrake (whose roots resemble the human form) 
by the Hebrews and Greeks as a cure for sterility ; 
or, to give an instance which is still accredited by 
some, the use of eye-bright {Euphrasia officinalis ^ L., 
a plant with a black pupil-like spot in its corolla) for 
complaints of the eyes.'- Allied to this doctrine are 
such beliefs, once held, as that the lungs of foxes are 
good for bronchial troubles, or that the heart of a 
lion will endow one with courage ; as Cornelius 
Agrippa put it, " It is well known amongst physicians 
that brain helps the brain, and lungs the lungs." ^ 
In modern times homoeopathy — according to which 

^ The question of Paracelsus' pharmacy is further com- 
plicated by the fact that this eccentric genius coined many 
new words (without regard to the principles of etymology) as 
names for his medicines, and often used the same term to 
stand for quite different bodies. Some of his disciples main- 
tained that he must not always be understood in a literal sense, 
in which probably there is an element of truth. See, for 
instance, A Golden and Blessed Casket of Nature's Marvels, by 
Benedictus Figulus (trans, by A. E. Waite, 1893). 

* See Dr Alfred C. H addon's Magic and Fetishism (1906), 

P-I5. 

2 Henry Cornelius Agrippa: Occult Philosophy, bk. i. 
chap. XV. (Whitehead's edition, Chicago, 1898, p. 72). 



30 BYGONE BELIEFS 

a drug is a cure, if administered in small doses, for 
that disease whose symptoms it produces, if given in 
large doses to a healthy person — seems to bear some 
resemblance to these old medical theories concern- 
ing the curing of like by like. That the system of 
Hahnemann (175 5- 1843), ^^e founder of homoeo- 
pathy, is free from error could be scarcely main- 
tained, but certain recent discoveries in connection 
with serum-therapy appear to indicate that the last 
word has not yet been said on the subject, and the 
formula " like cures like " may still have another 
lease of life to run. 

To return to Paracelsus, however. It may be 
thought that his views were not so great an advance 
on those of Galen ; but whether or not this be the 
case, his union of chemistry and medicine was of 
immense benefit to each science, and marked a new 
era in pharmacy. Even if his theories were highly 
fantastic, it was he who freed medicine from the 
shackles of traditionalism, and rendered progress in 
medical science possible. 

I must not conclude these brief notes without some 
reference to the medical theory of the medicinal 
efficacy of words. The Ebers papyrus already men- 
tioned gives various formulas which must be pro- 
nounced when preparing and when administering a 
drug ; and there is a draught used by the Eastern 
Jews as a cure for bronchial complaints prepared by 
writing certain words on a plate, washing them off 
with wine, and adding three grains of a citron which 
has been used at the Tabernacle festival. But enough 
for our present excursion ; we must hie us back to 
the modern world, with its alkaloids, serums, and 



MEDICINE AND MAGIC 31 

anti-toxins — another day we will, perhaps, wander 
again down the by-paths of Medicinal Magic. 

Note on the Paracelsian Doctrine of 
THE Microcosm 

" Man's nature," writes Cornelius Agrippa, " is 
the most complete Image of the whole Universe.^' ^ 
This theory, especially connected with the name of 
Paracelsus, is worthy of more than passing reference; 
but as the consideration of it leads us from medicine 
to metaphysics, I have thought it preferable to deal 
with the subject in a note. 

Man, taught the old mystical philosophers, is 
threefold in nature, consisting of spirit, soul, and 
body. The Paracelsian mercury, sulphur, and salt 
were the mineral analogues of these. "As to the 
Spirit," writes Valentine Weigel (i 533-1 588), a 
disciple of Paracelsus, " we are of God, move in 
God, and live in God, and are nourished of God. 
Hence God is in us and we are in God ; God hath 
put and placed Himself in us, and we are put and 
placed in God. As to the Soul, we are from the 
Firmament and Stars, we live and move therein, 
and are nourished thereof. Hence the Firmament 
with its astralic virtues and operations is in us, and 
we in it. The Firmament is put and placed in us, 
and we are put and placed in the Firmament. As to 
the Body, we are of the elements, we move and live 
therein, and are nourished of them : — hence the 
elements are in us, and we in them. The elements, 
by the slime, are put and placed in us, and we are 

^ H. C. Agrippa : Occult Philosophy, bk. i. chap, xxxiii. 
(Whitehead's edition, p. iii). 



32 BYGONE BELIEFS 

put and placed in them." ^ Or, to quote from Para- 
celsus himself, in his Hermetic Astronomy he writes : 
" God took the body out of which He built up man 
from those things which He created from nothingness 
into something . . . Hence man is now a micro- 
cosm, or a little world, because he is an extract from 
all the stars and planets of the whole firmament, from 
the earth and the elements, and so he is their quint- 
essence. . . . But between the macrocosm and the 
microcosm this difference occurs, that the form, 
image, species, and substance of man are diverse 
therefrom. In man the earth is flesh, the water is 
blood, fire is the heat thereof, and air is the balsam. 
These properties have not been changed but only 
the substance of the body. So man is man, not a 
world, yet made from the world, made in the likeness, 
not of the world, but of God. Yet man comprises 
in himself all the qualities of the world. . . . His 
body is from the world, and therefore must be fed 
and nourished by that world from which he has 
sprung. . . . He has been taken from the earth and 
from the elements, and therefore, must be nourished 
by these. . . . Now, man is not only flesh and 
blood, but there is within the intellect which does not, 
like the complexion, come from the elements, but 
from the stars. And the condition of the stars is 
this, that all the wisdom, intelligence, industry of the 
animal, and all the arts peculiar to man are contained 
in them. From the stars man has these same things, 
and that is called the light of Nature ; in fact, it is 

1 Valentine Weigel : "Astrology Theologised" : The 
Spiritual Hermeneutics of Astrology and Holy Writ, ed. by 
Anna Bonus Kingsford (1886), p. 59. 



MEDICINE AND MAGIC 33 

whatever man has found by the Hght of Nature. . . . 
Such, then, is the condition of man, that, out of the 
great universe he needs both elements and stars, 
seeing that he himself is constituted in that way." ^ 
It is not difficult to discern a certain truth in all 
this, making allowances for modes of thought which 
are not those of the present day. The Swedish 
philosopher Swedenborg (1688-1772) reaffirmed the 
theory in later years ; but, as he points out,^ the 
reason that man is a microcosm lies deeper than in 
the facts that his body is of the elements of this earth 
and is nourished thereby. According to this pro- 
found thinker, form, spiritually understood, is the 
expression of use, the uses of things being indicated 
by their forms. Now, the human form is the highest 
of all forms, because it subserves the highest of all 
uses. Hence, both the world of matter and the 
world of spirit are in the human form, because there 
is a correspondence in use between man and the 
Cosmos. We may, therefore, call man as to his 
body a microcosm, or little world ; as to his soul a 
micro-uranos, or little heaven. Or we may speak 
of the macrocosm, or great world, as the Grand Man, 
and we may say that the Soul of this Grand Man, the 
self-existent, substantial, and efficient cause of all 
things, at once immanent within yet transcending all 
things, is God. 

^ The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus, ed. 
by A. E. Waite (1894), vol. ii. pp. 289-291. 

^ See especially his Divine Love and Wisdom, §§ 251 and 319. 



IV 

SUPERSTITIONS CONCERNING 
BIRDS 

Amongst the most remarkable of natural occurrences 
must be included many of the phenomena connected 
with the behaviour of birds . Undoubtedly numerous 
species of birds are susceptible to atmospheric 
changes (of an electrical and barometric nature) too 
slight to be observed by man's unaided senses ; thus 
only is to be explained the phenomenon of migration 
and also the many other peculiarities in the behaviour 
of birds whereby approaching changes in the weather 
may be foretold. Probably, also, this fact has much 
to do with the extraordinary homing instinct of 
pigeons. But, of course, in the days when meteoro- 
logical science had yet to be born, no such explanation 
as this could be known. The ancients observed 
that birds by their migrations or by other peculiarities 
in their behaviour prognosticated coming changes 
in the seasons of the year and other changes con- 
nected with the weather (such as storms, etc.) ; they 
saw, too, in the homing instincts of pigeons an 
apparent exhibition of intelligence exceeding that of 
man. What more natural, then, for them to attribute 

34 



SUPERSTITIONS CONCERNING BIRDS 35 

foresight to birds, and to suppose that all sorts of 
coming events (other than those of an atmospheric 
nature) might be foretold by careful observation of 
their flight and song ? 

Augury — that is, the art of divination by observing 
the behaviour of birds— was extensively cultivated 
by the Etrurians and Romans.^ It is still used, I 
believe, by the natives of Samoa. The Romans had 
an official college of augurs, the members of which 
were originally three patricians. About 300 B.C. the 
number of patrician augurs was increased by one, 
and five plebeian augurs were added. Later the 
number was again increased to fifteen. The object 
of augury was not so much to foretell the future as 
to indicate what line of action should be followed, in 
any given circumstances, by the nation. The augurs 
were consulted on all matters of importance, and the 
position of augur was thus one of great consequence. 
In what appears to be the oldest method, the augur, 
arrayed in a special costume, and carrying a staff with 
which to mark out the visible heavens into houses, 
proceeded to an elevated piece of ground, where a 
sacrifice was made and a prayer repeated. Then, 
gazing towards the sky, he waited until a bird 
appeared. The point in the heavens where it first 
made its appearance was carefully noted, also the 
manner and direction of its flight, and the point 
where it was lost sight of. From these particulars 
an augury was derived, but, in order to be of eff^ect, 
it had to be confirmed by a further one. 

^ This is not quite an accurate definition, as " auguries " 
were also obtained from other animals and from celestial 
phenomena {e.g. lightning), etc. 



36 BYGONE BELIEFS 

Auguries were also drawn from the notes of birds, 
birds being divided by the augurs into two classes : 
(i) oscines, " those which give omens by their note," 
and (ii) allies y " those which afford presages by their 
flight." ^ Another method of augury was performed 
by the feeding of chickens specially kept for this 
purpose. This was done just before sunrise by the 
pullarius or feeder, strict silence being observed. If 
the birds manifested no desire for their food, the 
omen was of a most direful nature. On the other 
hand, if from the greediness of the chickens the grain 
fell from their beaks and rebounded from the ground, 
the augury was most favourable. This latter augury 
was known as tripudium solistimum. " Any fraud 
practised by the ' pullarius '," writes the Rev. Edward 
Smedley, " reverted to his own head. Of this we 
have a memorable instance in the great battle be- 
tween Papirius Cursor and the Samnites in the year 
of Rome 459. So anxious were the troops for battle, 
that the ' pullarius ' dared to announce to the consul 
a ' tripudium solistimum,' although the chickens 
refused to eat. Papirius unhesitatingly gave the signal 
for fight, when his son, having discovered the false 
augury, hastened to communicate it to his father. 
' Do thy part well,' was his reply, ' and let the deceit 
of the augur fall on himself. The " tripudium " has 
been announced to me, and no omen could be better 
for the Roman army and people ! ' As the troops 
advanced, a javelin thrown at random struck the 
' pullarius ' dead. ' The hand of heaven is in the 
battle,' cried Papirius ; ' the guilty is punished ! ' 

1 Pliny : Natural History, bk. x. chap. xxii. (Bostock and 
Riley's trans.,_^vol. ii., 1855, p. 495). 



SUPERSTITIONS CONCERNING BIRDS 37 

and he advanced and conquered." ^ A coincidence 
of this sort, if it really occurred, would very greatly 
strengthen the popular belief in auguries. 

The cock has always been reckoned a bird possessed 
of magic power. At its crowing, we are told, all un- 
quiet spirits who roam the earth depart to their dismal 
abodes, and the orgies of the Witches' Sabbath termi- 
nate. A cock is the favourite sacrifice offered to evil 
spirits in Ceylon and elsewhere. Alectromancy ^ 
was an ancient and peculiarly senseless method of 
divination (so called) in which a cock was employed. 
The bird had to be young and quite white. Its feet 
were cut off and crammed down its throat with a 
piece of parchment on which were written certain 
Hebrew words. The cock, after the repetition of a 
prayer by the operator, was placed in a circle divided 
into parts corresponding to the letters of the alphabet, 
in each of which a grain of wheat was placed. A 
certain psalm was recited, and then the letters were 
noted from which the cock picked up the grains, a 
fresh grain being put down for each one picked up. 
These letters, properly arranged, were said to give 
the answer to the inquiry for which divination was 
made. I am not sure what one was supposed to 
do if, as seems likely, the cock refused to act in 
the required manner. 

The ozcl was reckoned a bird of evil omen with 
the Romans, who derived this opinion from the 

^ Rev. Edward Smedley, M.A. : The Occult Sciences 
{Encyclopcedia Metropolitana), ed. by Elihu Rich (1855), 
p. 144. 

'■^ Cf. Arthur Edward Waite : The Occult Sciences (1891), 
pp. 124 and 125. 



38 BYGONE BELIEFS 

Etrurians, along with much else of their so-called 
science of augury. It was particularly dreaded if 
seen in a city, or, indeed, anywhere by day. Pliny 
(Caius Plinius Secundus, a.d. 6i-before 115) informs 
us that on one occasion " a horned owl entered the 
very sanctuary of the Capitol ; ... in consequence 
of which, Rome was purified on the nones of March 
in that year." ^ 

The folk-lore of the British Isles abounds with 
quaint beliefs and stories concerning birds. There 
is a charming Welsh legend concerning the robin^ 
which the Rev. T. F. T. Dyer quotes from Notes 
and Queries : — " Far, far away, is a land of woe, 
darkness, spirits of evil, and fire. Day by day does 
this little bird bear in his bill a drop of water to quench 
the flame. So near the burning stream does he fly, 
that his dear little feathers are scorched ; and hence 
he is named Brou-rhuddyn (Breast -burnt). To serve 
little children, the robin dares approach the infernal 
pit. No good child will hurt the devoted benefactor 
of man. The robin returns from the land of fire, 
and therefore he feels the cold of winter far more 
than his brother birds. He shivers in the brumal 
blast ; hungry, he chirps before your door." ^ 

Another legend accounts for the robin's red breast 
by supposing this bird to have tried to pluck a thorn 
from the crown encircling the brow of the crucified 
Christ, in order to alleviate His sufferings. No doubt 
it is on account of these legends that it is considered a 

1 Phmv : Natural History, bk. x. chap. xvi. (Bostock and 
Riley's trans., vol. ii., 1855, p. 492). 

2 T. F. Thiselton Dyer, M.A. : English Folk-Lore (1878), 
pp. 65 and 66. 



SUPERSTITIONS CONCERNING BIRDS 39 

crime, which will be punished with great misfortune, 
to kill a robin. In some places the same prohibition 
extends to the wren, which is popularly believed to 
be the wife of the robin. In other parts, however, 
the wren is (or at least was) cruelly hunted on certain 
days. In the Isle of Man the wren-hunt took place 
on Christmas Eve and St Stephen's Day, and is 
accounted for by a legend concerning an evil fairy 
who lured many men to destruction, but had to 
assume the form of a wren to escape punishment at 
the hands of an ingenious knight-errant. 

For several centuries there was prevalent over the 
whole of civilised Europe a most extraordinary 
superstition concerning the small Arctic bird resem- 
bling, but not so large as, the common wild goose, 
known as the barnacle or bernicle goose. Max 
Mueller ^ has suggested that this word was really 
derived from Hiberniciila, the name thus referring 
to Ireland, where the birds were caught ; but common 
opinion associated the barnacle goose with the shell- 
fish known as the barnacle (which is found on timber 
exposed to the sea), supposing that the former was 
generated out of the latter. Thus in one old medical 
writer we find : " There are founde in the north parts 
of Scotland, and the Hands adiacent, called Orchades 
[Orkney Islands], certain trees, whereon doe growe 
certaine shell fishes, of a white colour tending to 
russet ; wherein are conteined little lining creatures : 
which shells in time of maturitie doe open, and out 
of them grow those little living things ; which falling 

^ See F. Max Mueller's Lectures on the Science of Language 
{1885), where a very full account of the tradition concerning 
the origin of the barnacle goose will be found. 



40 BYGONE BELIEFS 

into the water, doe become foules, whom we call 
Barnakles . . . but the other that do fall vpon the 
land, perish and come to nothing : this much by 
the writings of others, and also from the mouths of 
the people of those parts. . . ." ^ 

The writer, however, who was a well-known 
surgeon and botanist of his day, adds that he had 
personally examined certain shell-fish from Lan- 
cashire, and on opening the shells had observed 
within birds in various stages of development. No 
doubt he was deceived by some purely superficial 
resemblances — for example, the feet of the barnacle 
fish resemble somewhat the feathers of a bird. He 
gives an imaginative illustration of the barnacle fowl 
escaping from its shell, which is reproduced in fig. 12. 

Turning now from superstitions concerning 
actual birds to legends of those that are purely 
mythical, passing reference must be made to the 
roc, a bird existing in Arabian legend, which we meet 
in the Arabian Nights, and which is chiefly remarkable 
for its size and strength. 

The phoenix, perhaps, is of more interest. Of 
** that famous bird of Arabia," Pliny writes as 
follows, prefixing his description of it with the 
cautious remark, " I am not quite sure that its exist- 
ence is not all a fable." " It is said that there is only 
one in existence in the whole world, and that that 
one has not been seen very often. We are told that 
this bird is of the size of an eagle, and has a brilliant 
golden plumage around the neck, while the rest of 
the body is of a purple colour ; except the tail, 

^ John Gerarde : The Herhall ; or, Generall Historie of 
Plasties (1597), 1391. 



To face p. 40. 



PLATE 7. 




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SUPERSTITIONS CONCERNING BIRDS 41 

which is azure, with long feathers intermingled of 
a roseate hue ; the throat is adorned with a crest, 
and the head with a tuft of feathers. The first 
Roman who described this bird . . . was the senator 
Manilius. ... He tells us that no person has ever 
seen this bird eat, that in Arabia it is looked upon 
as sacred to the sun, that it lives five hundred and 
forty years, that when it becomes old it builds a 
nest of cassia and sprigs of incense, which it fills with 
perfumes, and then lays its body down upon them 
to die ; that from its bones and marrow there springs 
at first a sort of small worm, which in time changes 
into a little bird ; that the first thing that it does is 
to perform the obsequies of its predecessor, and to 
carry the nest entire to the city of the Sun near 
Panchaia, and there deposit it upon the altar of that 
divinity. 

" The same Manilius states also, that the revolu- 
tion of the great year is completed with the life of 
this bird, and that then a new cycle comes round 
again with the same characteristics as the former 
one, in the seasons and the appearance of the stars. 
. . . This bird was brought to Rome in the censor- 
ship of the Emperor Claudius . . . and was ex- 
posed to public view. . . . This fact is attested by 
the public Annals, but there is no one that doubts 
that it was a fictitious phcenix only."^ 

The description of the plumage, etc., of this bird 
applies fairly well, as Cuvier has pointed out.^ to 

^ Pliny : Natural History, bk. x. chap. ii. (Bostock and 
Riley's trans., vol. ii., 1855, pp. 479-481). 

^ See Cuvier's The Animal Kingdom, Griffith's trans., 
vol, viii. (1829), p, 23. 



42 BYGONE BELIEFS 

the golden pheasant, and a specimen of the latter 
may have been the " fictitious phoenix " referred to 
above. That this bird should have been credited 
with the extraordinary and wholly fabulous pro- 
perties related by Pliny and others is not, however, 
easy to understand. The phoenix was frequently 
used to illustrate the doctrine of the immortality of 
the soul {e.g. in Clement's First Epistle to the 
Corinthians), and it is not impossible that originally 
it was nothing more than a symbol of immortality 
which in time became to be believed in as a really 
existing bird. The fact, however, that there was 
supposed to be only one phoenix, and also that the 
length of each of its lives coincided with what the 
ancients termed a " great year," may indicate that 
the phoenix was a symbol of cosmological periodicity. 
On the other hand, some ancient writers {e.g. Tacitus, 
A.D. 55-120) explicitly refer to the phoenix as a symbol 
of the sun, and in the minds of the ancients the sun 
was closely connected with the idea of immortality. 
Certainly the accounts of the gorgeous colours of the 
plumage of the phoenix might well be descriptions 
of the rising sun. It appears, moreover, that the 

Egyptian hieroglyphic benu, ^ , which is a figure 

of a heron or crane (and thus akin to the phoenix), 
was employed to designate the rising sun. 

There are some curious Jewish legends to account 
for the supposed immortal ity of the phoenix . Accord- 
ing to one, it was the sole animal that refused to eat 
of the forbidden tree when tempted by Eve. Accord- 
ing to another, its immortality was conferred on it 
by Noah because of its considerate behaviour in the 



SUPERSTITIONS CONCERNING BIRDS 43 

Ark, the phcenix not clamouring for food like the 
other animals.^ 

There is a celebrated bird in Chinese tradition, 
the Fung Hwang, which some sinologues identify 
with the phoenix of the West.- According to a com- 
mentator on the 'Rh Ya, this " felicitous and perfect 
bird has a cock's head, a snake's neck, a swallow's 
beak, a tortoise's back, is of five different colours 
and more than six feet high." 

Another account (that in the Lun Yu Tseh Shwai 
Shifig) tells us that " its head resembles heaven, its 
eye the sun, its back the moon, its wings the wind, 
its foot the ground, and its tail the woof." Further- 
more, " its mouth contains commands, its heart is 
conformable to regulations, its ear is thoroughly acute 
in hearing, its tongue utters sincerity, its colour is 
luminous, its comb resembles uprightness, its spur is 
sharp and curved, its voice is sonorous, and its belly 
is the treasure of literature." Like the dragon, 
tortoise, and unicorn, it was considered to be a 
spiritual creature ; but, unlike the Western phoenix, 
more than one Fung Hwang was, as I have pointed 
out, believed to exist. The birds were not always 
to be seen, but, according to Chinese records, they 
made their appearance during the reigns of certain 

1 The existence of such fables as these shows how grossly 
the real meanings of the Sacred Writings have been misunder- 
stood. 

2 Mr Chas. Gould, B.A., to whose book Mythical Monsters 
(1886) I am very largely indebted for my account of this bird, 
and from which I have culled extracts from the Chinese, is not 
of this opinion. Certainly the fact that we read of Fung . 
Hwangs in the plural, whilst tradition asserts that there is 
only one phcenix, seems to point to a difference in origin. 



44 BYGONE BELIEFS 

sovereigns. The Fung Hwang is regarded by the 
Chinese as an omen of great happiness and pro- 
sperity, and its hkeness is embroidered on the robes 
of empresses to ensure success. Probably, if the bird 
is not to be regarded as purely mythological and 
symbolic in origin, we have in the stories of it no 
more than exaggerated accounts of some species of 
pheasant. Japanese literature contains similar stories. 
Of other fabulous bird-forms mention may be 
made of the griffin and the harpy. The former was 
a creature half eagle, half lion, popularly supposed to 
be the progeny of the union of these two latter. It 
is described in the so-called Voiage and Travaile of 
Sir John Maundeville in the following terms ^ : — 
" Sum men seyn, that thei han the Body upward, as 
an Egle, and benethe as a Lyoun : and treuly thei 
seyn sothe, that thei ben of that schapp. But o 
Griffoun hathe the body more gret and is more strong 

1 The Voiage and Travaile of Sir John Maundeville, Kt. 
Which treateth of the Way to Hierusalem ; and of Marvayles of 
hide, ivith other Hands and Countryes. Now Publish'd entire 
from an Original MS. in The Cotton Library (London, 1727), 
cap. xxvi. pp. 325 and 326. 

" This work is mainly a compilation from the writings of 
William of Boldensele, Friar Odoric of Pordenone, Hetoum of 
Armenia, Vincent de Beauvais, and other geographers. It is 
probable that the name John de Mandeville should be regarded 
as a pseudonym concealing the identity of Jean de Bourgogne, 
a physician at Liege, mentioned under the name of Joannes 
ad Barbam in the vulgate Latin version of the Travels." (Note 
in British Museum Catalogue). The work, which was first 
pubUshed in French during the latter part of the fourteenth 
century, achieved an immense popularity, the marvels that it 
relates being readily received by the credulous folk of that and 
many a succeeding day. 



To face p. 44. 



PLATE 8. 




0^,1-^i^^ti 



Fig. 13. 

The r'ung Hwang, according to the 'Rh Ya, from Gould's 
Mythical Monsters. 



SUPERSTITIONS CONCERNING BIRDS 45 

thanne 8 Lyouns, of suche Lyouns as ben o this half ; 
and more gret and strongere, than an 100 Egles, 
suche as we han amonges us. For o Griffoun there 
will here, fleynge to his Nest, a gret Hors, or 2 Oxen 
zoked to gidere, as thei gon at the Plowghe. For he 
hathe his Talouns so longe and so large and grete, 
upon his Feet, as thoughe thei weren Homes of grete 
Oxen or of Bugles or of Kyzn ; so that men maken 
Cuppes of hem, to drynken of : and of hire Ribbes 
and of the Pennes of hire Wenges, men maken Bowes 
fulle strong, to schote with Arwes and Quarelle." 
The special characteristic of the griffin was its watch- 
fulness, its chief function being thought to be that 
of guarding secret treasure. This characteristic, no 
doubt, accounts for its frequent use in heraldry as a 
supporter to the arms. It was sacred to Apollo, 
the sun-god, whose chariot was, according to early 
sculptures, drawn by griffins.- Pliny, who speaks 
of it as a bird having long ears and a hooked beak, 
regarded it as fabulous. 

The harpies {i.e. snatchers) in Greek mythology are 
creatures like vultures as to their bodies, but with 
the faces of women, and armed with sharp claws. 

" Of Monsters all, most Monstrous this ; no greater Wrath 
God sends 'mongst Men ; it comes from depth of pitchy 
Hell: 
And Virgin's Face, but Womb like Gulf unsatiate hath, 
Her Hands are griping Claws, her Colour pale and fell." ^ 

We meet with the harpies in the story of Phineus, 
a son of Agenor, King of Thrace. At the bidding 
of his jealous wife, Id^ea, daughter of Dardanus, 

* Quoted from Vergil by John Guillim in his A Display 
of Heraldry (sixth edition, 1724), p. 271. 



46 BYGONE BELIEFS 

Phineus put out the sight of his children by his 
former wife, Cleopatra, daughter of Boreas. To 
punish this cruehy, the gods caused him to become 
bhnd, and the harpies were sent continually to harass 
and affright him, and to snatch away his food or 
defile it by their presence. They were afterwards 
driven away by his brothers-in-law, Zetes and 
Calais. It has been suggested that originally the 
harpies were nothing more than personifications of 
the swift storm-winds ; and few of the old natural- 
ists, credulous as they were, regarded them as real 
creatures, though this cannot be said of all. Some 
other fabulous bird-forms are to be met with in 
Greek and Arabian mythologies, etc.^ but they are 
not of any particular interest. And it is time for us 
to conclude our present excursion, and to seek for 
other byways. 



V 

THE POWDER OF SYMPATHY: 

A CURIOUS MEDICAL SUPERSTITION 

Out of the superstitions of the past the science of 
the present has gradually evolved. In the Middle 
Ages, what by courtesy we may term medical science 
was, as we have seen, little better than a heterogeneous 
collection of superstitions, and although various 
reforms were instituted with the passing of time, 
superstition still continued for long to play a promi- 
nent part in medical practice. 

One of the most curious of these old medical (or 
perhaps I should say surgical) superstitions was that 
relating to the Powder of Sympathy, a remedy (?) 
chiefly remembered in connection with the name of 
Sir Kenelm Digby (i 603-1 665), though he was prob- 
ably not the first to employ it. The Powder itself, 
which was used as a cure for wounds, was, in fact, 
nothing else than common vitriol, ^ though an im- 

^ Green vitriol, ferrous sulphate heptahydrate, a compound 
of iron, sulphur, and oxygen, crystallised with seven molecules 
of water, represented by the formula FeS04 • 7H2O. On ex- 
posure to the air it loses water, and is gradually converted into 
basic ferric sulphate. For long, green vitriol was confused 
with blue vitriol, which generally occurs as an impurity in 
crude green vitriol. Blue vitriol is copper sulphate penta- 
hydrate, CUSO4 . 5H2O. 

47 



48 BYGONE BELIEFS 

proved and more elegant form (if one may so describe 
it) was composed of vitriol desiccated by the sun's 
rays, mixed with gum tragacanth. It was in the 
application of the Powder that the remedy was 
peculiar. It was not, as one might expect, applied 
to the wound itself, but any article that might have 
blood from the wound upon it was either sprinkled 
with the Powder or else placed in a basin of water 
in which the Powder had been dissolved, and main- 
tained at a temperate heat. Meanwhile, the wound 
was kept clean and cool. 

Sir Kenelm Digby appears to have delivered a 
discourse dealing with the famous Powder before a 
learned assembly at Montpellier in France ; at least 
a work purporting to be a translation of such a dis- 
course was published in 1658,^ and further editions 
appeared in 1660 and 1664. Kenelm was a son 
of the Sir Everard Digby (i 578-1 606) who was 
executed for his share in the Gunpowder Plot. In 
spite of this fact, however, James I. appears to have 
regarded him with favour. He was a man of roman- 
tic temperament, possessed of charming manners, 
considerable learning, and even greater credulity. 
His contemporaries seem to have differed in their 
opinions concerning him. Evelyn (1620- 1706), the 
diarist, after inspecting his chemical laboratory, 
rather harshly speaks of him as " an errant mounte- 
bank ". Elsewhere he well refers to him as " a teller 

^ A late Discourse . . . by Sir Kenelm Digpy, Ki. &c. 
Touching the Cure of Wottnds by the Powder of Sympathy . . . 
rendered . . . out of French into English by R. White, Gent. 
(1658). This is entitled the second edition, but appears to 
have been the first. 



To face p. 48. 



PLATE <). 




Fig. 15. 

Sir Kenei.m Digrv, t'roia an engraved Portrait by Houbraken, 
after Vandyke. 



THE POWDER OF SYMPATHY 49 

of strange things " — this was on the occasion of 
Digby's relating a story of a lady who had such an 
aversion to roses that one laid on her cheek produced 
a blister ! 

To return to the Late Discourse : after some pre- 
liminary remarks, Sir Kenelm records a cure which 
he claims to have effected by means of the Powder. 
It appears that James Howell (i 594-1 666, after- 
wards historiographer royal to Charles H.), had, 
in the attempt to separate two friends engaged in 
a duel, received two serious wounds in the hand. 
To proceed in the writer's own words : — " It was 
my chance to be lodged hard by him ; and four or 
five days after, as I was making myself ready, he 
[Mr Howell] came to my House, and prayed me 
to view his wounds ; for I understand, said he, 
that you have extraordinary remedies upon such 
occasions, and my Surgeons apprehend some fear, 
that it may grow to a Gangrene, and so the hand 
must be cut off. . . . 

" I asked him then for any thing that had the blood 
upon it, so he presently sent for his Garter, where- 
with his hand was first bound : and having called 
for a Bason of water, as if I would wash my hands ; 
I took an handfuU of Powder of Vitrol, which I had 
in my study, and presently dissolved it. As soon 
as the bloody garter was brought me, I put it within 
the Bason, observing in the interim what Mr Howel 
did, who stood talking with a Gentleman in the corner 
of my Chamber, not regarding at all what I was 
doing : but he started suddenly, as if he had found 
some strange alteration in himself; I asked him 
what he ailed ? I know not what ailes me, but I 

4 



50 BYGONE BELIEFS 

find that I feel no more pain, methinks that a 
pleasing kind of freshnesse, as it were a wet cold 
Napkin did spread over my hand, which hath taken 
away the inflammation that tormented me before ; I 
replied, since that you feel already so good an effect 
of my medicament, I advise you to cast away all 
your Plaisters, onely keep the wound clean, and in a 
moderate temper 'twixt heat and cold. This was 
presently reported to the Duke of Buckingham, 
and a little after to the King [James I,], who were 
both very curious to know the issue of the businesse, 
which was, that after dinner I took the garter out 
of the water, and put it to dry before a great fire ; it 
was scarce dry, but Mr Howels servant came run- 
ning [and told me] , that his Master felt as much burn- 
ing as ever he had done, if not more, for the heat 
was such, as if his hand were betwixt coales of fire : 
I answered, that although that had happened at 
present, yet he should find ease in a short time ; for 
I knew the reason of this new accident, and I would 
provide accordingly, for his Master should be free 
from that inflammation, it may be, before he could 
possibly return unto him : but in case he found no 
ease, I wished him to come presently back again, 
if not he might forbear coming. Thereupon he 
went, and at the instant I did put again the garter 
into the water ; thereupon he found his Master 
without any pain at all. To be brief, there was 
no sense of pain afterward : but within five or 
six dayes the wounds were cicatrized, and entirely 
healed." i 

Sir Kenelm proceeds, in this discourse, to relate 
1 Ihid., pp. 7-1 1. 



To face p. 50- 



PLATE 10. 




J'~IG. 16. 

James Howell, Iroiu an engraved Portrait by Claude Melan and 
Abraham Bosse. 



{By permissimi of the British Museum. Photo by Donald Macbeth, London.) 



THE POWDER OF SYMPATHY 51 

that he obtained the secret of the Powder from a 
CarmeHte who had learnt it in the East. Sir 
Kenelm says that he told it only to King James and 
his celebrated physician, Sir Theodore Mayerne 
( 1 573-1655). The latter disclosed it to the Duke of 
Mayerne, whose surgeon sold the secret to various 
persons, until ultimately, as Sir Kenelm remarks, it 
became known to every country barber. However, 
Digby's real connection with the Powder has been 
questioned. In an Appendix to Dr Nathanael 
Highmore's (161 3-1 685) The History of Generation, 
published in 1651, entitled A Discourse of the Cure 
of Wounds by Sympathy, the Powder is referred 
to as Sir Gilbert Talbot's Powder ; nor does it 
appear to have been Digby who brought the claims 
of the Sympathetic Powder before the notice of 
the then recently-formed Royal Society, although 
he was a by no means inactive member of the 
Society. Highmore, however, in the Appendix to 
the work referred to above, does refer to Digby's 
reputed cure of Howell's wounds already men- 
tioned ; and after the publication of Digby's Dis- 
course the Powder became generally known as 
Sir Kenelm Digby's Sympathetic Powder. As 
such it is referred to in an advertisement appended 
to Wit and Drollery (1661) by the bookseller, 
Nathanael Brook. ^ 

^ This advertisement is as follows : " These are to give 
notice, that Sir Kenelme Digbies Sympathetica! Powder pre- 
par'd by Promethean fire, curing all green wounds that come 
within the compass of a Remedy ; and likewise the Tooth-ache 
infallibly in a very short time : Is to be liad at Mr Nathanael 
Brook's at the Angel in Cornhil." 



52 BYGONE BELIEFS 

The belief in cure by sympathy, however, is much 
older than Digby's or Talbot's Sympathetic Powder. 
Paracelsus described an ointment consisting essenti- 
ally of the moss on the skull of a man who had died 
a violent death, combined with boar's and bear's fat, 
burnt worms, dried boar's brain, red sandal-wood 
and mummy, which was used to cure (?) wounds in 
a similar manner, being applied to the weapon with 
which the hurt had been inflicted. With reference 
to this ointment, readers will probably recall the 
passage in Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel (canto 
3, stanza 23), respecting the magical cure of 
William of Deloraine's wound by " the Ladye of 
Branksome " : — 

" She drew the splinter from the wound 

And with a charm she stanch'd the blood ; 
She bade the gash be cleans'd and bound : 

No longer by his couch she stood ; 
But she had ta'en the broken lance. 

And washed it from the clotted gore 

And salved the splinter o'er and o'er. 
William of Deloraine, in trance, 

Whene'er she turned it round and round, 

Twisted as if she gall'd his wound. 
Then to her maidens she did say 

That he should be whole man and sound 
Within the course of a night and day. 
Full long she toil'd ; for she did rue 
Mishap to friend so stout and true." 

Francis Bacon (i 561-1626) writes of sympathetic 
cures as follows : — " It is constantly Received, and 
Avouched, that the Anointing of the Weapon^ that 
maketh the Wound ^ wil heale the Wound it selfe. In 
this Experiment, upon the Relation of Men of Credit, 



To face p. 52. 



PLATE 11. 




in^A/ccictna 



i atalu ju<z 63. V$*iO'*V'_^ v^i (mo 



Fig. 17. 

Xathanael Highmore, M.D., from an engraved Tortrait by A. Blooteling. 

By pamissicn of the Brilish Museum. Photo by Lomld Macbeth, London.) 



THE POWDER OF SYMPATHY 53 

(though my selfe, as yet, am not fully incHned to 
beleeve it,) you shal note the Points following ; First, 
the Ointment ... is made of Divers ingredients ; 
whereof the Strangest and Hardest to come by, are 
the Mosse upon the Skull of a dead Man, Vnburied ; 
And the Fats of a Boare, and a Beare, killed in the 
Act of Generation. These Two last I could easily 
suspect to be prescribed as a Starting Hole ; That if 
the Experiment proved not, it mought be pretended, 
that the Beasts were not killed in due Time ; For as 
for the Mosse, it is certain there is great Quantity of 
it in Ireland, upon Slain Bodies, laid on Heaps, 
Vnburied. The other Ingredients are, the Bloud- 
Stone in Pozvder, and some other Things, which 
seeme to have a Vertue to Stanch Bloud; As also 
the Mosse hath. . . . Secondly, the same kind of 
Ointment, applied to the Hurt it selfe, worketh not 

the Effect ; but onely applied to the Weapon 

Fourthly, it may be applied to the Weapon, though 
the Party Hurt be at a great Distance. Fifthly, it 
seemeth the Imagination of the Party, to be Cured, is 
not needfull to Concurre ; For it may be done with- 
out the knowledge of the Party Wounded ; And thus 
much hath been tried, that the Ointment (for Experi- 
ments sake,) hath been wiped off the Weapon, without 
the knowledge of the Party Hurt, and presently the 
Party Hurt, hath been in great Rage of Paine, till the 
Weapon was Reannointed. Sixthly, it is affirmed, 
that if you cannot get the Weapon, yet if you put an 
Instrument of Iron, or Wood, resembling the Weapon, 
into the Wound, whereby it bleedeth, the Annointing 
of that histrument will serve, and work the Effect. 
This I doubt should be a Device, to keep this strange 



54 BYGONE BELIEFS 

Forme of Cure, In Request, and Use ; Because many 
times you cannot come by the Weapon it selve. 
Seventhly, the Wound be at first Washed clean with 
White Wine or the Parties own Water ; And then 
bound up close in Fine Linen and no more Dressing 
renewed, till it be whole ^ ^ 

Owing to the demand for making this ointment, 
quite a considerable trade was done in skulls from 
Ireland upon which moss had grown owing to their 
exposure to the atmosphere, high prices being 
obtained for fine specimens. 

The idea underlying the belief in the efficacy of 
sympathetic remedies, namely, that by acting on part 
of a thing or on a symbol of it, one thereby acts 
magically on the whole or the thing symbolised, is 
the root-idea of all magic, and is of extreme antiquity. 
DiGBY and others, however, tried to give a natural 
explanation to the supposed efficacy of the Powder. 
They argued that particles of the blood would ascend 
from the bloody cloth or weapon, only coming to rest 
when they had reached their natural home in the 
wound from which they had originally issued. These 
particles would carry with them the more volatile 
part of the vitriol, which would effect a cure more 
readily than when combined with the grosser part 
of the vitriol. In the days when there was hardly 
any knowledge of chemistry and physics, this 
theory no doubt bore every semblance of truth. 
In passing, however, it is interesting to note that 
Digby's Discourse called forth a reply from J. F. 

^ Francis Bacon : Sylva Sylvarum : or, A Natural History 
. . . Published after the Authors death . . . The sixt Editioii 
. . . (1651), p. 217. 



Tt< face p. 54. 



PLATE 12. 




Francis Racox, from the Frontispiece to his Sylva Sylvarmn 
(6th edition, 1651). 



THE POWDER OF SYMPATHY 55 

Helvetius (or Schweitzer, i 625-1 709), physician 
to the Prince of Orange, who afterwards became 
celebrated as an alchemist who had achieved the 
magnum opus} 

Writing of the Sympathetic Powder, Professor De 
Morgan wittily argues that it must have been quite 
efficacious. He says : " The directions were to 
keep the wound clean and cool, and to take care 
of diet, rubbing the salve on the knife or sword. 
If we remember the dreadful notions upon drugs 
which prevailed, both as to quantity and quality, 
we shall readily see that any way of not dress- 
ing the wound would have been useful. If the 
physicians had taken the hint, had been careful of 
diet, etc., and had poured the little barrels of medicine 
down the throat of a practicable doll, they would have 
had their magical cures as well as the surgeons." ^ As 
Dr Pettigrew has pointed out,^ Nature exhibits very 
remarkable powers in effecting the healing of wounds 
by adhesion, when her processes are not impeded. 
In fact, many cases have been recorded in which 
noses, ears, and fingers severed from the body have 
been re-joined thereto, merely by washing the parts, 
placing them in close continuity, and allowing the 
natural powers of the body to effect the healing. 
Moreover, in spite of Bacon's remarks on this point, 
the effect of the imagination of the patient, who was 

^ See my Alchemy : Ancient and Modern (1911), §§ 63-67. 

^ Professor Augustus De Morgan : A Budget of Paradoxes 
(1872), p. 66. 

^ Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, F.R.S. : On Superstitions 
connected with the History and Practice of Medicine and Surgery 
(1844), pp. 164-167. 



56 BYGONE BELIEFS 

usually not ignorant that a sympathetic cure was to 
be attempted, must be taken into account ; for, 
without going to the excesses of *' Christian Science " 
in this respect, the fact must be recognised that the 
state of the mind exercises a powerful effect on the 
natural forces of the body, and a firm faith is un- 
doubtedly helpful in effecting the cure of any sort 
of ill. 



VI 

THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 

The word " talisman " is derived from the Arabic 
*' tilsam," '* a magical image," through the plural 
form " tilsamen." This Arabic word is itself prob- 
ably derived from the Greek TeXea-jua in its late 
meaning of " a religious mystery " or " consecrated 
object ". The term is often employed to designate 
amulets in general, but, correctly speaking, it has a 
more restricted and special significance. A talisman 
may be defined briefly as an astrological or other 
symbol expressive of the influence and power of one 
of the planets, engraved on a sympathetic stone or 
metal (or inscribed on specially prepared parchment) 
under the auspices of this planet. 

Before proceeding to an account of the preparation 
of talismans proper, it will not be out of place to 
notice some of the more interesting and curious of 
other amulets. All sorts of substances have been 
employed as charms, sometimes of a very unpleasant 
nature, such as dried toads. Generally, however, 
amulets consist of stones, herbs, or passages from 
Sacred Writings written on paper. This latter class 
are sometimes called " characts," as an example of 
which may be mentioned the Jewish phylacteries. 

57 



58 



BYGONE BELIEFS 



Every precious stone was supposed to exercise its 
own peculiar virtue ; for instance, amber was 
regarded as a good remedy for throat troubles, and 
agate was thought to preserve from snake-bites. 
Elihu Rich ^ gives a very full list of stones and their 
supposed virtues. Each sign of the zodiac was sup- 
posed to have its own particular stone ^ (as shown in 
the annexed table), and hence the superstitious 
though not inartistic custom of wearing one's birth- 







Month (com- 






A Q+TO- 


mencing 




Sign of the Zodiac. 


logical 
Symbol. 


about the 

2 1st of 
preceding 
month) . 


Stone. 


Aries, the Ram 


V 


April 


Sardonyx, 


Taurus, the Bull 


6 


May 


Cornelian. 


Gemini, the Twins 


n 


June 


Topaz. 


Cancer, the Crab 


25 


July 


Chalcedony. 


Leo, the Lion . 


a 


August 


Jasper. 


Virgo, the Virgin 


TIJ 


September 


Emerald. 


Libra, the Balance 


r^ 


October 


Beryl. 


Scorpio, the Scorpioi 


i 111 


November 


Amethyst. 


Sagittarius, the Arche 


r t 


December 


Hj^acinth 
( = Sapphire). 


Capricorn, the Goat 


]^ 


January 


Chrysoprase. 


Aquarius, the Water 


- 


February 


Crystal. 


bearer 








Pisces, the Fishes 


K 


March 


Sapphire 
( = Lapis 
lazuH). 



1 Elihu Rich : The Occult Sciences [Encyclopcedia Metro- 
politana, 1855), pp. 348 et scq. 

^ With regard to these stones, however, there is much con- 
fusion and difference of opinion. The arrangement adopted 
in the table here given is that of Cornelius Agrippa {Occult 
Philosophy, bk. ii.). A comparatively recent work, esteemed 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 59 

stone for " luck ". The belief in the occult powers 
of certain stones is by no means non-existent at the 
present day ; for even in these enlightened times 
there are not wanting those who fear the beautiful 
opal, and put their faith in the virtues of New Zealand 
green-stone. 

Certain herbs, culled at favourable conjunctions of 
the planets and worn as amulets, were held to be very 
efficacious against various diseases. Precious stones 
and metals were also taken internally for the same 

by modern occultists, namely, The Light of Egypt, or the Science 
of the Soul and the Stars (1889), gives the following scheme : — 

""i^ =Amethyst. a5=Emerald. ^=:Diamond, i'^=Onyx (Chalce- 
dony). 

tt = Agate. ^=Ruby. ii]^=Topaz. cit:= Sapphire (sky- 
blue). 

n=Ber5,'l. ll]t?= Jasper. | ^Carbuncle. K=Chrysolite. 

Common superstitious opinion regarding birth-stones, as 
reflected, for example, in the "lucky birth charms" exhibited 
in the windows of the jewellers' shops, considerably diverges 
in this matter from the views of both these authorities. The 
usual scheme is as follows : — 

Jan. = Garnet. May = Emerald, Sept. = Sapphire. 

Feb. = Amethyst. June = Agate. Oct. =Opal. 

Mar, =Bloodstone. July =Ruby. Nov. =Topaz. 

Apr. =Diamond. Aug. =: Sardonyx. Dec. ==^ Turquoise, 

The bloodstone is frequently assigned either to Aries or 
Scorpio, owing to its symbolical connection with Mars ; and 
the opal to Cancer, which in astrology is the constellation of 
the moon. 

Confusion is rendered still worse by the fact that tlie ancients, 
whilst in some cases using the same names as ourselves, applied 
them to different stones ; thus their " hyacinth " is our 
" sapphire," whilst their "sapphire" is our " lapis lazuli". 



6o BYGONE BELIEFS 

purpose — " remedies " which in certain cases must 
have proved exceedingly harmful. One theory put 
forward for the supposed medical value of amulets 
was the Doctrine of Effluvia. This theory supposes 
the amulets to give off vapours or effluvia which 
penetrate into the body and effect a cure. It is, of 
course, true that certain herbs, etc.^ might, under the 
heat of the body, give ofT such effluvia, but the theory 
on the whole is manifestly absurd. The Doctrine 
of Signatures, which we have already encountered in 
our excursions, 1 may also be mentioned in this con- 
nection as a complementary and equally untenable 
hypothesis. 

According to Elihu Rich,^ the following were the 
commonest Egyptian amulets : — 

1. Those inscribed with the figure of Serapis^ 
used to preserve against evils inflicted by earth. 

2. Figure of Canopus, against evil by water. 

3. Figure of a hawk, against evil from the air. 

4. Figure of an asp, against evil by fire. 

Paracelsus believed there to be much occult 
virtue in an alloy of the seven chief metals, which he 
called Electrum. Certain definite proportions of 
these metals had to be taken, and each was to be 
added during a favourable conjunction of the planets. 
From this electrum he supposed that valuable amulets 
and magic mirrors could be prepared. 

A curious and ancient amulet for the cure of 

various diseases, particularly the ague, was a triangle 

formed of the letters of the word *' Abracadabra." 

The usual form was that shown in fig. 19, and that 

1 See " Medicine and Magic." '^ Op. ciL, p. 343. 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 



6i 



shown in fig. 20 was also known. The origin of this 
magical word is lost in obscurity. 

The belief in the horn as a powerful amulet, 
especially prevalent in Italy, where is it the custom 
of the common people to make the sign of the mano 
cormito to avoid the consequence of the dreaded 



ABRACADABRA 

ABRACADABR 

ABRACADAB 

ABRACADA 

ABRACAD 

ABRACA 

ABRAC 

ABRA 

ABR 

AB 

A 



ABRACADABRA 
BRACADABRA 
RACADABRA 
ACADABRA 
CADABRA 
ADABRA 
DABRA 
ABRA 
BRA 
RA 
A 



Fig. 19. 



Fig. 20. 



" Abracadabra " Amulets. 



jettatore or evil eye, can be traced to the fact that 
the horn was the symbol of the Goddess of the Moon. 
Probably the belief in the powers of the horse-shoe ^ 
had a similar origin. Indeed, it seems likely that 
not only this, but most other amulets, like talismans 
proper — as will appear below,— were originally de- 
signed as appeals to gods and other powerful spiritual 
beings. 

^ See Frederick T. Elworthy's Horns of Honour (iqoo), 
especially pp. 56 et seq. 



62 



BYGONE BELIEFS 



To turn our attention, however, to the art of pre- 
paring talismans proper : I may remark at the outset 
that it was necessary for the taHsman to be prepared 
by one's own self — a task by no means easy as a rule. 
Indeed, the right mental attitude of the occultist was 
insisted upon as essential to the operation. 

As to the various signs to be engraven on the 
talismans, various authorities differ, though there are 
certain points connected with the art of talismanic 
magic on which they all agree. It so happened that 
the ancients were acquainted with seven metals and 
seven planets (including the sun and moon as planets), 
and the days of the week are also seven. It was 
concluded, therefore, that there was some occult con- 
nection between the planets, metals, and days of the 
week. Each of the seven days of the week was 
supposed to be under the auspices of the spirits of 
one of the planets ; so also was the generation in the 
womb of Nature of each of the seven chief metals. 

In the following table are shown these particulars 
in detail : — 



I. 
Planet. 


2. 

Symbol. 


3- 
Day of 

Week. 


4- 
Metal. 


5- 

Colour. 


Sun 

Moon . 
Mars . 
Mercury 

Jupiter 
Venus 
Saturn . 


© 
D 

6 

V 
9 
h 


Sunday 
Monday 
Tuesday 
Wednesday 

Thursday 

Friday 

Saturday 


Gold 
Silver 
Iron 
^Mercury 

Tin 

Copper 

Lead 


Gold or yellow. 

Silver or white. 

Red. 

Mixed colours or 

purple. 
Violet or blue. 
Turquoise or green. 
Black. 



^ Used in the form of a solid amalgam for talismans. 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 



63 



Consequently, the metal of which a talisman was to 
be made, and also the time of its preparation, had to 
be chosen with due regard to the planet under which 
it was to be prepared .^ The power of such a talisman 
was thought to be due to the genie of this planet — a 
talisman, was, in fact, a silent evocation of an astral 
spirit. Examples of the belief that a genie can be 
bound up in an amulet in some way are afforded 

* In this connection a rather surprising discovery made by 
Mr W. GoRN Old (see his A Manual of Occultism, 191 1, pp. 
7 and 8) must be mentioned. The ancient Chaldeans appear 
invariably to have enumerated the planets in the following 
order: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon — 
which order was adopted by the medieval astrologers. Let 
us commence with the Sun in the above sequence, and write 
down every third planet ; we then have — 



Sun 


. Sunday. 


Moon 


. Monday. 


Mars 


. Tuesday. 


Mercury , 


. Wednesday 


Jupiter . 


. Thursday. 


Venus 


. Friday. 


Saturn . 


. Saturday. 



That is to say, we have the planets in the order in which they 
were supposed to rule over the days of the week. This is, 
perhaps, not so surprising, because it seems probable that, each 
day being first di\-ided into twenty-four hours, it was assumed 
that the planets ruled for one hour in turn, in the order first 
mentioned above. Each day was then named after the planet 
which ruled during its first hour. It will be found that if we 
start with the Sun and write down every twenty-fourth 
planet, the result is exactly the same as if we write down 
every third. But Mr Old points out further, doing so by 
means of a diagram which seems to be rather cumbersome, 
that if we start M'ith Saturn in the first place, and write down 
every fifth planet, and then for each planet substitute the 



64 



BYGONE BELIEFS 



by the story of Aladdin's lamp and ring and other 
stories in the Thousand and One Nights. Sometimes 
the tahsmanic signs were engraved on precious stones, 
sometimes they were inscribed on parchment ; in 
both cases the same principle held good, the nature 
of the stone chosen, or the colour of the ink employed, 
being that in correspondence with the planet under 
whose auspices the talisman was prepared. 

All the instruments employed in the art had to be 
specially prepared and consecrated. Special robes 
had to be worn, perfumes and incense burnt, and 
invocations, conjurations, etc., recited, all of which 
depended on the planet ruling the operation. A 

metal over which it was supposed to rule, we then have these 
metals arranged in descending order of atomic weights, thus : — 

Saturn .... Lead (=207). 

Mercury .... Mercury (=200). 

Sun Gold ( = 197). 

Jupiter .... Tin (=119). 

Moon . . . . Silver (=108). 

Venus .... Copper (=64). 

Mars Iron (==56). 

Similarly we can, starting from any one of these orders, 
pass to the other two. The fact is a very surprising one, 
because the ancients could not possibly have been acquainted 
with the atomic weights of the metals, and, it is important to 
note, the order of the densities of these metals, which might 
possibly have been known to them, is by no means the same 
as the order of their atomic weights. Whether the fact indi- 
cates a real relationship between the planets and the metals, 
or whether there is some other explanation, I am not prepared 
to say. Certainly some explanation is needed : to say that 
the fact is mere coincidence is unsatisfactory, seeing that 
the odds against, not merely this, but any such regularity 
occurring by chance — as calculated by the mathematical 
theory of probability — are 119 to i. 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 65 

description of a few typical talismans in detail will 
not here be out of place. 

In The Key of Solomoji the King (translated by 
S. L. M. Mathers, 1889)^ ^^^ described five, six, or 

^ The Clavicula Salomonis, or Key of Solomon the King, con- 
sists mainly of an elaborate ritual for the evocation of the 
various planetary' spirits, in which process the use of talismans 
or pentacles plays a prominent part. It is claimed to be a 
work of white magic, but, inasmuch as it, like other old books 
making the same claim, gives descriptions of a pentacle for 
causing ruin, destmction, and death, and another for causing 
earthquakes — to give only two examples, — the distinction 
between black and white magic, which we shall no doubt 
encounter again in later excursions, appears to be somewhat 
arbitrary. 

Regarding the authorship of the work, Mr Mathers, trans- 
lator and editor of the first printed copy of the book, says, 
" I see no reason to doubt the tradition which assigns the 
authorship of the ' Key ' to King Solomon." If this view be 
accepted, however, it is abundantly evident that the Key as 
it stands at present (in which we find S. John quoted, and 
mention made of SS. Peter and Paul) must have received 
some considerable alterations and additions at the hands of 
later editors. But even if we are compelled to assign the 
Clavicula Salomonis in its present form to the fourteenth or 
fifteenth centur^', we must, I think, allow that it was based 
upon traditions of the past, and, of course, the possibility 
remains that it might have been based upon some earlier work. 
With regard to the antiquity of the planetary sigils, Mr 
Mathers notes " that, among the Gnostic talismans in the 
British Museum, there is a ring of copper with the sigils of 
Venus, which are exactly the same as those given by mediaeval 
writers on magic." 

In spite of the absurdity of its claims, viewed in the light of 
modern knowledge, the Clavicula Salomonis exercised a con- 
siderable influence in the past, and is to be regarded as one of 
the chief sources of mediaeval ceremonial magic. HistoricaUy 
speaking, therefore, it is a book of no little importance. 

5 



66 



BYGONE BELIEFS 



seven talismans for each planet. Each of these was 
supposed to have its own peculiar virtues, and many 
of them are stated to be of use in the evocation of 
spirits. The majority of them consist of a central 
design encircled by a verse of Hebrew Scripture. 




Fig. 21. 
The First Pentacle of the Sun, from Clavicula Salomonis. 

The central designs are of a varied character, generally 
geometrical figures and Hebrew letters or words, or 
magical characters. Five of these talismans are here 
portrayed, the first three described difl^ering from 
the above. The translations of the Hebrew verses, 
etc., given below are due to Mr Mathers. 

The First Pentacle of the Sun.---' The Countenance 
of Shaddai the Almighty, at Whose aspect all creatures 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 



67 



obey, and the Angelic Spirits do reverence on bended 
knees." About the face is the name " El Shaddai ". 
Around is written in Latin : '' Behold His face and 
form by Whom all things were made, and Whom all 
creatures obey " (see fig. 21). 




Fig. 22. 
The Fifth Pentacle of Mars, from Clavicula Salomonis. 

The Fifth Pentacle of Mars. — " Write thou this 
Pentacle upon virgin parchment or paper because it 
is terrible unto the Demons, and at its sight and 
aspect they will obey thee, for they cannot resist its 
presence." The design is a Scorpion,^ around which 
the word Hvl is repeated. The Hebrew versicle 

^ In astrology the zodiacal sign of the Scorpion is the 
" night house " of the planet Mars. 



68 BYGONE BELIEFS 

is from Psalm xci. 13 : " Thou shalt go upon the 
Hon and adder, the young Hon and the dragon shah 
thou tread under thy feet " (see fig. 22). 

The Third Pentacle of the Moon. — '* This being 
duly borne with thee when upon a journey, if it be 




Fig. 23. 
The Third Pentacle of the Moon, from Clavicula Salomonis. 

properly made, serveth against all attacks by night, 
and against every kind of danger and peril by Water." 
The design consists of a hand and sleeved forearm 
(this occurs on three other moon talismans), together 
with the Hebrew names Aub and Vevaphel. The 
versicle is from Psalm xl. 13 : 'Be pleased O Ihvh 
to deliver me,' O Ihvh make haste to help me " (see 
fig. 23). 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 69 

The Third Pentacle of Venus. — " This, if it be only 
shown unto any person, serveth to attract love. Its 
Angel Monachiel should be invoked in the day and 
hour of Venus, at one o'clock or at eight." The 
design consists of two triangles joined at their apices, 




Fig. 24. 
The Third Pentacle of Venus, from Clavicula Salomunis. 

with the following names — Ihvh, Adonai, Ruach, 
Achides, y^galmiel, Monachiel, and Degaliel. The 
versicle is from Genesis i. 28 : *' And the Elohim 
blessed them, and the Elohim said unto them. Be ye 
fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and 
subdue it " (see fig. 24). 

The Third Pentacle of Mercury. — " This serves to 
invoke the Spirits subject unto Mercury ; and 



70 BYGONE BELIEFS 

especially those who are written in this Pentacle." 
The design consists of crossed lines and magical 
characters of Mercury. Around are the names of 
the angels, Kokaviel, Ghedoriah, Savaniah, and 
Chokmahiel (see fig. 25). 




Fig. 25. 
The Third Pentacle of Mercury, from Clavicula Salomonis. 

Cornelius Agrippa, in his Three Books of Occult 
Philosophy, describes another interesting system of 
talismans. Francis Barrett's Magus, or Celestial 
Intelligencer, a well-known occult work published 
in the first year of the nineteenth century, I may 
mention, copies Agrippa's system of talismans, with- 
out acknowledgment, almost word for word. To 
each of the planets is assigned a magic square or 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 71 

table, i.e. a. square composed of numbers so arranged 
that the sum of each row or column is always the 
same. For example, the table for Mars is as 
follows : — 



II 


24 


7 


20 


3 


4 


12 


25 


8 


16 


17 


5 


13 


21 


9 


10 


18 


I 


14 


22 


23 


6 


19 


2 


15 



It will be noticed that every number from i up to 
the highest possible occurs once, and that no number 
occurs twice. It will also be seen that the sum of 
each row and of each column is always 65. Similar 
squares can be constructed containing any square 
number of figures, and it is, indeed, by no means 
surprising that the remarkable properties of such 
" magic squares," before these were explained 
mathematically, gave rise to the belief that they had 
some occult significance and virtue. From the 
magic squares can be obtained certain numbers 
which are said to be the numbers of the planets ; 
their orderliness, we are told, reflects the order 
of the heavens, and from a consideration of them 
the magical properties of the planets which they 
represent can be arrived at. For example, in 
the above table the number of rows of numbers 
is 5. The total number of numbers in the table 
is the square of this number, namely, 25, which is 
also the greatest number in the table. The sum 
of any row^ or column is 65. And, finally, the sum 
of all the numbers is the product of the number of 
rows (namely, 5) and the sum of any row (namely, 
65), i.e. 325. These numbers, namely, 5, 25, 65, and 



72 BYGONE BELIEFS 

325, are the numbers of Mars. Sets of numbers for 
the other planets are obtained in exactly the same 
manner. 1 

Now to each planet is assigned an Intelligence or 
good spirit, and an Evil Spirit or demon ; and the 
names of these spirits are related to certain of the 
numbers of the planets. The other numbers are 
also connected with holy and magical Hebrew names. 
Agrippa, and Barrett copying him, gives the follow- 
ing table of " names answering to the numbers of 
Mars " :— 

5. He, the letter of the holy name. n 

25. -n-> 

65. Adonai. -^^tn 

325. Graphiel, the Intelligence of Mars. '?N''DN-ii 

325. Barzabel, the Spirit of Mars. ^nini^hi 

Similar tables are given for the other planets. The 
numbers can be derived from the names by regarding 
the Hebrew letters of which they are composed as 
numbers, in which case >< (Aleph) to id (Teth) 
represent the units i to 9 in order, ^ (Jod) to i; 
(Tzade) the tens 10 to 90 in order, p (Koph) to n 
(Tau) the hundreds 100 to 400, whilst the hundreds 
500 to 900 are represented by special terminal forms 
of certain of the Hebrew letters. ^ It is evident that 

^ Readers acquainted with mathematics will notice that if n 
is the number of rows in such a " magic square," the other 
numbers derived as above will be n^, ^n{n^ + i), and ^^^(w^ + i). 
This can readily be proved by the laws of arithmetical pro- 
gressions. Rather similar but more complicated and less 
uniform " magic squares " are attributed to Paracelsus. 

'^ It may be noticed that this makes SNlN2;nn equal to 326, 
one unit too much. Possibly an Aleph should be omitted. 



To face p. 72. 

Seal of /Cars 




Of bis nntdUgciKC 




PLATE 13. 
Qt bid Spirit. 




Fig. 26. Fig. 27. Fig. 28. 

The Seals of Mars, his IntelUgence, and his Spirit, from Barrett's 
Magus (1801). 




Seal i»f /Bare— Uron. 

Fig. 29. 
The Tahsman of Mars, from Barrett's Magus. 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 73 

no little wasted ingenuity must have been employed 
in working all this out. 

Each planet has its own seal or signature, as well 
as the signature of its intelligence and the signature 
of its demon. These signatures were supposed to 
represent the characters of the planets' intelligences 
and demons respectively. The signature of Mars is 
shown in fig. 26, that of its intelligence in fig. 27, 
and that of its demon in fig. 28. 

These various details were inscribed on the talis- 
mans — each of which was supposed to confer its 
own peculiar benefits — as follows : On one side 
must be engraved the proper magic table and the 
astrological sign of the planet, together with the 
highest planetary number, the sacred names corre- 
sponding to the planet, and the name of the intelli- 
gence of the planet, but not the name of its demon. 
On the other side must be engraved the seals of the 
planet and of its intelligence, and also the astrological 
sign. Barrett says, regarding the demons : ^ " It is 
to be understood that the intelligences are the pre- 
siding good angels that are set over the planets ; but 
that the spirits or daemons, with their names, seals, 
or characters, are never inscribed upon any Talisman, 
except to execute any evil eflPect, and that they are 
subject to the intelligences, or good spirits ; and 
again, when the spirits and their characters are used, 
it will be more conducive to the effect to add some 
divine name appropriate to that effect which we 
desire." Evil talismans can also be prepared, we 
are informed, by using a metal antagonistic to the 

^ Francis Barrett : The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer 
(1801), bk. i. p. 146. 



74 BYGONE BELIEFS 

signs engraved thereon. The complete taHsman of 
Mars is shown in fig. 29. 

Alphonse Louis Constant/ a famous French 
occultist of the nineteenth century, who wrote under 
the name of " Eliphas Levi," describes yet another 
system of talismans. He says : " The Pentagram 
must be always engraved on one side of the talisman, 
with a circle for the Sun, a crescent for the Moon, a 
winged caduceus for Mercury, a sword for Mars, a 
G for Venus, a crown for Jupiter, and a scythe for 
Saturn. The other side of the talisman should bear 
the sign of Solomon, that is, the six-pointed star 
formed by tv/o interlaced triangles ; in the centre 
there should be placed a human figure for the sun 
talismans, a cup for those of the Moon, a dog's head 
for those of Jupiter, a lion for those of Mars, a dove's 
for those of Venus, a bull's or goat's for those of 
Saturn. The names of the seven angels should be 
added either in Hebrew, Arabic, or magic characters 
similar to those of the alphabets of Trimethius. The 
two triangles of Solomon may be replaced by the 
double cross of Ezekiel's wheels, this being found on 
a great number of ancient pentacles. All objects of 
this nature, whether in metals or in precious stones, 
should be carefully wrapped in silk satchels of a 
colour analogous to the spirit of the planet, perfumed 
with the perfumes of the corresponding day, and 
preserved from all impure looks and touches."^ 

Eliphas L6vi, following Pythagoras and many 

^ For a biographical and critical account of this extra- 
ordinary personage and his views, see Mr A. E. Waite's The 
Mysteries of Magic : a Digest of the Writings of Iiliphas L6vi 
(1897). ^ Op. cit., p. 204. 



To face p. j-^- 



PLATE 14. 




Fig. 30. 

The Pentagram embellished according to 
^LIPHAS L^vi. 




Fig. 31. 

The Hexagram, or Seal of Solomon, embellished 
according to ^liphas Levi. 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 75 

of the mediaeval magicians, regarded the pentagram, 
or five-pointed star, as an extremely powerful 
pentacle. According to him, if with one horn in the 
ascendant it is the sign of the microcosm — Man. 
With two horns in the ascendant, however, it is the 
sign of the Devil, " the accursed Goat of Mendes," 
and an instrument of black magic. We can, indeed, 
trace some faint likeness between the pentagram and 
the outline form of a man, or of a goat's head, accord- 
ing to whether it has one or two horns in the ascen- 
dant respectively, which resemblances may account 
for this idea. Fig. 30 shows the pentagram embel- 
lished with other symbols according to Eliphas Lj^vi, 
whilst fig. 31 shows his embellished form of the six- 
pointed star, or Seal of Solomon. This, he says, 
is " the sign of the Macrocosmos, but is less power- 
ful than the Pentagram, the microcosmic sign," thus 
contradicting Pythagoras, who, as we have seen, 
regarded the pentagram as the sign of the Macro- 
cosm. Eliphas Levi asserts that he attempted the 
evocation of the spirit of Apollonius of Tyana in 
London on 24th July 1854, by the aid of a pentagram 
and other magical apparatus and ritual, apparently 
with success, if we may believe his word. But he 
sensibly suggests that probably the apparition which 
appeared was due to the eff^ect of the ceremonies 
on his own imagination, and comes to the conclusion 
that such magical experiments are injurious to 
health. 1 

Magical rings were prepared on the same principle 
as were talismans. Says Cornelius Agrippa: " The 
manner of making these kinds of Magical Rings is this, 
^ Op. cit., pp. 446-450. 



76 BYGONE BELIEFS 

viz. : When any Star ascends fortunately, with the 
fortunate aspect or conjunction of the Moon, we must 
take a stone and herb that is under that Star, and make 
a ring of the metal that is suitable to this Star, and in 
it fasten the stone, putting the herb or root under it — 
not omitting the inscriptions of images, names, and 
characters, as also the proper suffumigations. . . ." ^ 
Solomon's ring was supposed to have been pos- 
sessed of remarkable occult virtue. Says Josephus 
(c. A.D. 37-100) : " God also enabled him [Solomon] 
to learn that skill which expels demons, which is a 
science useful and sanative to men. He composed 
such incantations also by which distempers are 
alleviated. And he left behind him the manner of 
using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, 
so that they never return ; and this method of cure 
is of great force unto this day ; for I have seen a 
certain man of my own country, whose name was 
Eleazar, releasing people that were demoniacal in the 
presence of Vespasian, and his sons, and his captains, 
and the whole multitude of his soldiers. The 
manner of the cure was this ; he put a ring that had 
under the seal a root of one of those sorts mentioned 
by Solomon, to the nostrils of the demoniac, after 
which he drew out the demon through his nostrils : 
and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured 
him to return unto him no more, making still mention 
of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he 
composed." ^ 

^ II. C. Agrippa: Occult Philosophy, bk. i. chap, xlvii. 
(Whitehead's edition, pp. 141 and 142). 

'^ Flavius Josephus: The Antiquities of the Jews (trans, by 
W. Whiston), bk. viii. chap, ii., § 5 (45) to (47). 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 77 

Enough has been said already to indicate the 
general nature of talismanic magic. No one could 
maintain otherwise than that much of it is pure 
nonsense ; but the subject should not, therefore, be 
dismissed as valueless, or lacking significance. It is 
past belief that amulets and talismans should have 
been believed in for so long unless they appeared to 
be productive of some of the desired results, though 
these may have been due to forces quite other than 
those which were supposed to be operative. Indeed, 
it may be said that there has been no widely held 
superstition which does not embody some truth, 
like some small specks of gold hidden in an uninviting 
mass of quartz. As the poet Blake put it : " Every- 
thing possible to be believ'd is an image of truth " ; ^ 
and the attempt may here be made to extract the 
gold of truth from the quartz of superstition concern- 
ing talismanic magic. For this purpose the various 
theories regarding the supposed efficacy of talismans 
must be examined. 

Two of these theories have already been noted, 
but the doctrine of effluvia admittedly applied only 
to a certain class of amulets, and, I think, need not 
be seriously considered. The " astral-spirit theory " 
(as it may be called), in its ancient form at any rate, 
is equally untenable to-day. The discoveries of new 
planets and new metals seem destructive of the belief 
that there can be any occult connection between 
planets, metals, and the days of the week, although 
the curious fact discovered by Mr Old, to which I 
have referred (footnote, p. 63), assuredly demands 
an explanation, and a certain validity may, perhaps, 

^ " Proverbs of Hell " {The Marriage of Heaven and Hell). 



78 BYGONE BELIEFS 

be allowed to astrological symbolism. As concerns 
the belief in the existence of what may be called 
(although the term is not a very happy one) " dis- 
carnate spirits," however, the matter, in view of the 
modern investigation of spiritistic and other abnormal 
psychical phenomena, stands in a different position. 
There can, indeed, be little doubt that very many of 
the phenomena observed at spiritistic seances come 
under the category of deliberate fraud, and an even 
larger number, perhaps, can be explained on the 
theory of the subconscious self. I think, however, 
that the evidence goes to show that there is a residuum 
of phenomena which can only be explained by the 
operation, in some way, of discarnate intelligences.^ 
Psychical research may be said to have supplied the 
modern world with the evidence of the existence of 
discarnate personalities, and of their operation on 
the material plane, which the ancient world lacked. 
But so far as our present subject is concerned, all 
the evidence obtainable goes to show that the pheno- 
mena in question only take place in the presence of 
what is called " a medium " — a person of peculiar 
nervous or psychical organisation. That this is the 
case, moreover, appears to be the general belief of 
spiritists on the subject. In the sense, then, in which 
" a talisman " connotes a material object of such a 
nature that by its aid the powers of discarnate intel- 

^ The publications of The Society for Psychical Research, 
and Frederick Myers' monumental work on Human Person- 
ality and its Survival of Bodily Death, should be specially 
consulted. I have attempted a brief discussion of modern 
spiritualism and psychical research in my Matter, Spirit, and 
the Cosmos (1910), chap. ii. 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 79 

ligences may become operative on material things, 
we might apply the term " talisman " to the nervous 
system of a medium : but then that would be the only 
talisman. Consequently, even if one is prepared to 
admit the whole of modern spiritistic theory, nothing 
is thereby gained towards a belief in talismans, and 
no light is shed upon the subject. 

Another theory concerning talismans which com- 
mended itself to many of the old occult philosophers, 
Paracelsus for instance, is what may be called the 
" occult force " theory. This theory assumes the 
existence of an occult mental force, a force capable 
of being exerted by the human will, apart from its 
usual mode of operation by means of the body. It 
was believed to be possible to concentrate this mental 
energy and infuse it into some suitable medium, 
with the production of a talisman, which was thus 
regarded as a sort of accumulator for mental energ5^ 
The theory seems a fantastic one to modern thought, 
though, in view of the many startling phenomena 
brought to light by psychical research, it is not 
advisable to be too positive regarding the limitations 
of the powers of the human mind. However, I 
think we shall find the element of truth in the other- 
wise absurd belief in talismans by means of what 
may be called, not altogether fancifully perhaps, a 
transcendental interpretation of this " occult force " 
theory. I suggest, that is, that when a believer makes 
a talisman, the transference of the occult energy is 
ideal, not actual ; that the power, believed to reside 
in the talisman itself, is the power due to the reflex 
action of the believer's mind. The power of what 
transcendentalists call " the imagination " cannot be 



8o BYGONE BELIEFS 

denied ; for example, no one can deny that a man 
with a firm conviction that such a success will be 
achieved by him, or such a danger avoided, will be 
far more likely to gain his desire, other conditions 
being equal, than one of a pessimistic turn of mind. 
The mere conviction itself is a factor in success, or 
a factor in failure, according to its nature ; and it 
seems likely that herein will be found a true explana- 
tion of the effects believed to be due to the power of 
the talisman. 

On the other hand, however, we must beware of 
the exaggerations into which certain schools of 
thought have fallen in their estimates of the powers 
of the imagination. These exaggerations are par- 
ticularly marked in the views which are held by many 
nowadays with regard to " faith-healing," although 
the *' Christian Scientists " get out of the difficulty — 
at least to their own satisfaction — by ascribing their 
alleged cures to the Power of the Divine Mind, and 
not to the power of the individual mind. 

Of course the real question involved in this " tran- 
scendental theory of talismans " as I may, perhaps, 
call it, is that of the operation of incarnate spirit on 
the plane of matter. This operation takes place 
only through the medium of the nervous system, and 
it has been suggested,^ to avoid any violation of the 
law of the conservation of energy, that it is effected, 
not by the transference, as is sometimes supposed, 
of energy from the spiritual to the material plane, but 
merely by means of directive control over the ex- 
penditure of energy derived by the body from purely 

^ Cf. Sir Oliver Lodge: Life and Matter (1907), especially 
chap. ix. ; and W. Hibbert, F.I.C, : Life and Energy (1904). 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 8i 

physical sources, e.g. the latent chemical energy 
bound up in the food eaten and the oxygen breathed. 
I am not sure that this theory really avoids the 
difficulty which it is intended to obviate ; ^ but it is 
at least an interesting one, and at any rate there may 
be modes in vv^hich the body, under the directive con- 
trol of the spirit, may expend energy derived from 
the material plane, of which we know little or nothing. 
We have the testimony of many eminent authorities ^ 
to the phenomenon of the movement of physical 
objects without contact at spiritistic seances. It 
seems to me that the introduction of discarnate in- 
telligences to explain this phenomenon is somewhat 
gratuitous — the psychic phenomena which yield 
evidence of the survival of human personality after 
bodily death are of a different character. For if w^e 
suppose this particular phenomenon to be due to 
discarnate spirits, we must, in view of what has been 
said concerning *' mediums," conclude that the 
movements in question are not produced by these 
spirits directly, but through and by means of the 
nervous system of the medium present. Evidently, 
therefore, the means for the production of the phe- 
nomenon reside in the human nervous system (or, 
at any rate, in the peculiar nervous system of 
" mediums "), and all that is lacking is intelligence 

^ The subject is rather too technical to deal with here. I 
have discussed it elsewhere; see " Thermo-Dynamical Objec- 
tions to the Mechanical Theory of Life," The Chemical News, 
vol. cxii. pp. 271 et seq. (3rd December 1915). 

* For instance, the well-known physicist, SirW, F. Barrett, 
F.R.S. (late Professor of Experimental Physics in The Royal 
College of Science for Ireland). See his On the Threshold of a 
Next' World of Thought (1908), § 10. 

6 



82 BYGONE BELIEFS 

or initiative to use these means. This intelUgence 
or initiative can surely be as well supplied by the 
sub-consciousness as by a discarnate intelligence. 
Consequently, it does not seem unreasonable to 
suppose that equally remarkable phenomena may 
have been produced by the aid of talismans in the 
days when these were believed in, and may be pro- 
duced to-day, if one has sufficient faith — that is to 
say, produced by man when in the peculiar condi- 
tion of mind brought about by the intense belief in 
the power of a talisman. And here it should be 
noted that the term " talisman " may be applied to 
any object (or doctrine) that is believed to possess 
peculiar power or efficacy. In this fact, I think, is 
to be found the peculiar danger of erroneous doctrines 
which promise extraordinary benefits, here and now 
on the material plane, to such as believe in them. 
Remarkable results may follow an intense belief in 
such doctrines, which, whilst having no connection 
whatever with their accuracy, being proportional 
only to the intensity with which they are held, cannot 
do otherwise than confirm the believer in the validity 
of his beliefs, though these may be in every way 
highly fantastic and erroneous. Both the Roman 
Catholic, therefore, and the Buddhist may admit 
many of the marvels attributed to the relics of each 
other's saints ; though, in denying that these marvels 
prove the accuracy of each other's religious doctrines, 
each should remember that the same is true of his 
own. 

In illustration of the real power of the imagination, 
I may instance the Maori superstition of the Taboo. 
According to the Maories, anyone who touches a 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 83 

tabooed object will assuredly die, the tabooed object 
being a sort of " anti-talisman ". Professor Frazer ^ 
says : '* Cases have been known of Maories dying 
of sheer fright on learning that they had unwittingly 
eaten the remains of a chief's dinner or handled 
something that belonged to him," since such objects 
were, ipso facto , tabooed. He gives the following case 
on good authority : "A woman, having partaken of 
some fine peaches from a basket, was told that they 
had come from a tabooed place. Immediately the 
basket dropped from her hands and she cried out in 
agony that the atua or godhead of the chief, whose 
divinity had been thus profaned, would kill her. 
That happened in the afternoon, and next day by 
twelve o'clock she was dead." For us the power of 
the taboo does not exist ; for the Maori, who im- 
plicitly believes in it, it is a very potent realit}', but 
this power of the taboo resides not in external 
objects but in his own mind. 

Dr Haddon ^ quotes a similar but still more re- 
markable story of a young Congo negro which very 
strikingly shows the power of the imagination. The 
young negro, " being on a journey, lodged at a 
friend's house ; the latter got a wild hen for his 
breakfast, and the young man asked if it were a 
wild hen. His host answered 'No.' Then he fell 
on heartily, and afterwards proceeded on his journey. 
After four years these two met together again, and 
his old friend asked him ' if he would eat a wild 
hen,' to which he answered that it was tabooed to 

^ Professor J. G. Fr.-vzer, D.C.L. : Psyches Task (1909), p. 7. 
2 Alfred C. Haddon, Sc.D., F.R.S. : Magic a^^d Fetishism 
(1906), p. 56. 



84 BYGONE BELIEFS 

him. Hereat the host began immediately to laugh, 
inquiring of him, ' What made him refuse it now, 
when he had eaten one at his table about four years 
ago ? ' At the hearing of this the negro immediately 
fell a-trembling, and suffered himself to be so far 
possessed with the effects of imagination that he 
died in less than twenty-four hours after." 

There are, of course, many stories about amulets, 
etc., which cannot be thus explained. For example, 
Elihu Rich gives the following : — 

*' In 1568, we are told (Transl. of Salverte, p. 196) 
that the Prince of Orange condemned a Spanish 
prisoner to be shot at Juliers. The soldiers tied him 
to a tree and fired, but he was invulnerable. They 
then stripped him to see what armour he wore, but 
they found only an amulet bearing the figure of a 
lamb (the Agnus Dei, we presume). This was taken 
from him, and he was then killed by the first shot. 
De Baros relates that the Portuguese in like manner 
vainly attempted to destroy a Malay, so long as he 
wore a bracelet containing a bone set in gold, which 
rendered him proof against their swords. A similar 
marvel is related in the travels of the veracious 
Marco Polo. ' In an attempt of Kublai Khan to 
make a conquest of the island of Zipangu, a jealousy 
arose between the two commanders of the expedition, 
which led to an order for putting the whole garrison 
to the sword. In obedience to this order, the heads 
of all were cut off excepting of eight persons, who by 
the efficacy of a diabolical charm, consisting of a jewel 
or amulet introduced into the right arm, between the 
skin and the flesh, were rendered secure from the 
effects of iron, either to kill or wound. Upon this 



THE BELIEF IN TALISMANS 85 

discovery being made, they were beaten with a heavy 
wooden club, and presently died.' " ^ I think, how- 
ever, that these, and many similar stories, must be 
taken cum grano salts. 

In conclusion, mention must be made of a very in- 
teresting and suggestive philosophical doctrine — the 
Law of Correspondences, — due in its explicit form 
to the Swedish philosopher, who was both scientist 
and mystic, Emanuel Swedenborg. To deal in 
any way adequately with this important topic is 
totally impossible within the confines of the present 
discussion.- But, to put the matter as briefly as 
possible, it may be said that Swedenborg maintains 
(and the conclusion, I think, is valid) that all causa- 
tion is from the spiritual world, physical causation 
being but secondary, or apparent — that is to say, a 
mere reflection, as it were, of the true process. He 
argues from this, thereby supplying a philosophical 
basis for the unanimous belief of the nature-mystics, 
that every natural object is the symbol (because the 
creation) of an idea or spiritual verity in its widest 
sense. Thus, there are svmbols which are inherent 
in the nature of things, and symbols which are not. 
The former are genuine, the latter merely artificial. 
Writing from the transcendental point of view, 
Eliphas Levi says : " Ceremonies, vestments, per- 
fumes, characters and figures being . . . necessary 
to enlist the imagination in the education of the will, 
the success of magical works depends upon the faith- 
ful observance of all the rites, which are in no sense 

1 Elihu Rich : The Occult Sciences, p. 346. 
'^ I may refer the reader to my A Matheynatical Theory of 
Spirit (1912), chap, i., for a more adequate statement. 



86 BYGONE BELIEFS 

fantastic or arbitrary, having been transmitted to us 
by antiquity, and permanently subsisting by the 
essential laws of analogical realisation and of the 
correspondence which inevitably connects ideas 
and forms." ^ Some scepticism, perhaps, may be 
permitted as to the validity of the latter part of this 
statement, and the former may be qualified by the 
proviso that such things are only of value in the right 
education of the will, if they are, indeed, genuine, 
and not merely artificial, symbols. But the writer, 
as I think will be admitted, has grasped the essential 
point, and, to conclude our excursion, as we began 
it, with a definition, I will say that the power of the 
talisman is the power of the mind {or imagination) 
brought into activity by means of a suitable symbol. 

1 Eliphas Levi : Transcendental Magic : its Doctrine and 
Ritual (trans, by A. E. Waite, i8g6), p. 234, 



VII 

CEREMONIAL MAGIC IN 
THEORY AND PRACTICE 

The word " magic," if one may be permitted to say 
so, is itself almost magical — magical in its power to 
conjure up visions in the human mind. For some 
these are of bloody rites, pacts wdth the powers of 
darkness, and the lascivious orgies of the Saturnalia 
or Witches' Sabbath ; in other minds it has pleasanter 
associations, serving to transport them from the 
world of fact to the fairyland of fancy, where the 
purse of FoRTUNATUS, the lamp and ring of Aladdin, 
fairies, gnomes, jinn, and innumerable other strange 
beings flit across the scene in a marvellous kaleido- 
scope of ever-changing wonders. To the study of 
the magical beliefs of the past cannot be denied the 
interest and fascination which the marvellous and 
wonderful ever has for so many minds, many of 
whom, perhaps, cannot resist the temptation of 
thinking that there may be some element of truth in 
these wonderful stories. But the study has a greater 
claim to our attention ; for, as I have intimated 
already, magic represents a phase in the develop- 
ment of human thought, and the magic of the past 

«7 



88 BYGONE BELIEFS 

was the womb from which sprang the science of the 
present, unHke its parent though it be. 

What then is magic ? According to the dictionary 
definition — and this will serve us for the present — it 
is the (pretended) art of producing marvellous results 
by the aid of spiritual beings or arcane spiritual forces. 
Magic, therefore, is the practical complement of 
animism. Wherever man has really believed in the 
existence of a spiritual world, there do we find 
attempts to enter into communication with that 
world's inhabitants and to utilise its forces. Pro- 
fessor Leuba^ and others distinguish between propi- 
tiative behaviour towards the beings of the spiritual 
world, as marking the religious attitude, and coercive 
behaviour towards these beings as characteristic of 
the magical attitude ; but one form of behaviour 
merges by insensible degrees into the other, and the 
distinction (though a useful one) may, for our present 
purpose, be neglected. 

Animism, "the Conception of Spirit everywhere " 
as Mr Edward Clodd ^ neatly calls it, and perhaps 
man's earliest view of natural phenomena, persisted 
in a modified form, as I have pointed out in " Some 
Characteristics of Mediaeval Thought," throughout 
the Middle Ages. A belief in magic persisted like- 
wise. In the writings of the Greek philosophers of 
the Neo-Platonic school, in that curious body of 
esoteric Jewish lore known as the Kabala, and in the 
works of later occult philosophers such as Agrippa 

1 James H. Leuba : The Psychological Origin and the 
Nature of Religion (1909), chap, ii. 

^ Edward Clodd: Animism the Seed of Religion (1905), 
p. 26. 



CEREMONIAL MAGIC 89 

and Paracelsus, we find magic, or rather the theory 
upon which magic as an art was based, presented in 
its most philosophical form. If there is anything 
of value for modern thought in the theory of magic, 
here is it to be found ; and it is, I think, indeed to be 
found, absurd and fantastic though the practices 
based upon this philosophy, or which this philosophy 
was thought to substantiate, most certainly are. I 
shall here endeavour to give a sketch of certain of 
the outstanding doctrines of magical philosophy, 
some details concerning the art of magic, more especi- 
ally as practised in the Middle Ages in Europe, 
and, finally, an attempt to extract from the former 
what I consider to be of real worth. We have already 
wandered down many of the byways of magical belief, 
and, indeed, the word " magic " may be made to 
cover almost every superstition of the past. To 
what we have already gained on previous excursions 
the present, I hope, will add what we need in order 
to take a synthetic view of the whole subject. 

In the first place, something must be said concern- 
ing what is called the Doctrine of Emanations, a theory 
of prime importance in Neo-Platonic and Kabalistic 
ontology. According to this theory, everything in 
the universe owes its existence and virtue to an emana- 
tion from God, which divine emanation is supposed 
to descend, step by step (so to speak), through the 
hierarchies of angels and the stars, down to the things 
of earth, that which is nearer to the Source con- 
taining more of the divine nature than that which is 
relatively distant. As Cornelius Agrippa expresses 
it : " For God, in the first place is the end and 
beginning of all Virtues ; he gives the seal of the 



90 BYGONE BELIEFS 

Ideas to his servants, the IntelHgences ; who as 
faithful officers, sign all things intrusted to them 
with an Ideal Virtue ; the Heavens and Stars, as 
instruments, disposing the matter in the mean while 
for the receiving of those forms which reside in 
Divine Majesty (as saith Plato in Timeus) and to 
be conveyed by Stars ; and the Giver of Forms 
distributes them by the ministry of his Intelligences, 
which he hath set as Rulers and Controllers over his 
Works, to whom such a power is intrusted to things 
committed to them that so all Virtues of Stones, 
Herbs, Metals, and all other things may come from 
the Intelligences, the Governors. The Form, there- 
fore, and Virtue of things comes first from the Ideas, 
then from the ruling and governing Intelligences, 
then from the aspects of the Heavens disposing, and 
lastly from the tempers of the Elements disposed, 
answering the influences of the Heavens, by which 
the Elements themselves are ordered, or disposed. 
These kinds of operations, therefore, are performed 
in these inferior things by express forms, and in the 
Heavens by disposing virtues, in Intelligences by 
mediating rules, in the Original Cause by Ideas and 
exemplary forms, all which must of necessity agree 
in the execution of the effect and virtue of every 
thing. 

*' There is, therefore, a wonderful virtue and opera- 
tion in every Herb and Stone, but greater in a Star, 
beyond which, even from the governing Intelligences 
everything receiveth and obtains many things for 
itself, especially from the Supreme Cause, with whom 
all things do mutually and exactly correspond, agree- 
ing in an harmonious consent, as it were in hymns 



CEREMONIAL MAGIC 91 

always praising the highest Maker of all things. . . . 
There is, therefore, no other cause of the necessity 
of effects than the connection of all things with the 
First Cause, and their correspondency with those 
Divine patterns and eternal Ideas whence every thing 
hath its determinate and particular place in the 
exemplary world, from whence it lives and receives 
its original being : And every virtue of herbs, stones, 
metals, animals, words and speeches, and all things 
that are of God, is placed there." ^ As compared 
with the ex nihilo creationism of orthodox theology, 
this theory is as light is to darkness. Of course, 
there is much in Cornelius Agrippa's statement of 
it which is inacceptable to modern thought ; but 
these are matters of form merely, and do not affect 
the doctrine fundamentally. For instance, as a 
nexus between spirit and matter Agrippa places the 
stars : modern thought prefers the ether. The 
theory of emanations may be, and was, as a matter 
of fact, made the justification of superstitious prac- 
tices of the grossest absurdity, but on the other 
hand it may be made the basis of a lofty system of 
transcendental philosophy, as, for instance, that of 
Emanuel Swedenborg, whose ontology resembles 
in some respects that of the Neo-Platonists. Agrippa 
uses the theory to explain all the marvels which his 
age accredited, marvels which we know had for the 
most part no existence outside of man's imagination. 
I suggest, on the contrary, that the theory is really 
needed to explain the commonplace, since, in the 
last analysis, every bit of experience, every pheno- 

^ H. C. Agrippa: Occult Philosophy, bk. i., chap. xiii. 
(Whitehead's edition, pp. 67-68). 



92 BYGONE BELIEFS 

menon, be it ever so ordinary — indeed the very fact 
of experience itself, — is most truly marvellous and 
magical, explicable only in terms of spirit. As 
Eliphas Levi well says in one of his flashes of in- 
sight : " The supernatural is only the natural in an 
extraordinary grade, or it is the exalted natural ; a 
miracle is a phenomenon which strikes the multi- 
tude because it is unexpected ; the astonishing is 
that which astonishes ; miracles are effects which 
surprise those who are ignorant of their causes, or 
assign them causes which are not in proportion to 
such effects." ^ But I am anticipating the sequel. 

The doctrine of emanations makes the universe 
one vast harmonious whole, between whose various 
parts there is an exact analogy, correspondence, or 
sympathetic relation. " Nature (the productive prin- 
ciple)," says Iamblichos (3rd-4th century), the 
Neo-Platonist, " in her peculiar way, makes a like- 
ness of invisible principles through symbols in 
visible forms." ^ The belief that seemingly similar 
things sympathetically affect one another, and that a 
similar relation holds good between different things 
which have been intimately connected with one 
another as parts within a whole, is a very ancient 
one. Most primitive peoples are very careful to 
destroy all their nail-cuttings and hair-clippings, 
since they believe that a witch gaining possession 
of these might work them harm. For a similar 
reason they refuse to reveal their real names, which 

^ Eliphas Livi : Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and 
Ritual (trans, by A. E. Waite, 1896), p. 192. 

2 Iamblichos : Thcurgia, or the Egyptian Mysteries (trans, 
by Dr Alex. Wilder, New York, 191 1), p. 239. 



CEREMONIAL MAGIC 93 

they regard as part of themselves, and adopt nick- 
names for common use. The belief that a witch 
can torment an enemy by making an image of his 
person in clay or wax, correctly naming it, and 
mutilating it with pins, or, in the case of a waxen 
image, melting it by fire, is a very ancient one, and 
was held throughout and beyond the Middle Ages. 
The Sympathetic Powder of Sir Kenelm Digby we 
have already noticed, as well as other instances of 
the belief in " sympathy," and examples of similar 
superstitions might be multiplied almost indefinitely. 
Such are generally grouped under the term " sympa- 
thetic magic " ; but inasmuch as all magical practices 
assume that by acting on part of a thing, or a symbolic 
representation of it, one acts magically on the whole, 
or on the thing symbolised, the expression may in 
its broadest sense be said to involve the whole of 
magic. 

The names of the Divine Being, angels and devils, 
the planets of the solar system (including sun and 
moon) and the days of the week, birds and beasts, 
colours, herbs, and precious stones — all, according 
to old-time occult philosophy, are connected by the 
sympathetic relation believed to run through all 
creation, the knowledge of which was essential to 
the magician ; as well, also, the chief portions of the 
human body, for man, as we have seen, was believed 
to be a microcosm — a universe in miniature. I have 
dealt with this matter and exhibited some of the sup- 
posed correspondences in "The Belief in Talismans ". 
Some further particulars are shown in the annexed 
table, for which I am mainly indebted to Agrippa. 
But, as in the case of the zodiacal gems already dealt 



94 



BYGONE BELIEFS 



with, the old authorities by no means agree as to the 
majority of the planetary correspondences. 



Table of Occult Correspondences 



Arch- 
angel. 


Angel. 


Planet. 


Part of 

Human 

Body. 


Ani- 
mal. 


Bird. 


Precious 
Stone. 


Raphael 


Michael 


Sun 


Heart 


Lion 


Swan 


Carbuncle 


Gabriel 


Gabriel 


Moon 


Left foot 


Cat 


Owl 


Crystal 


Camael 


Zamael 


Mars 


Right 
hand 


Wolf 


Vulture 


Diamond 


Michael 


Raphael 


Mercury 


Left hand 


Ape 


Stork 


Agate 


Zadikel 


Sachiel 


Jupiter 


Head 


Hart 


Eagle 


Sapphire 
(= Lapis 
lazuh) 


Haniel 


Anael 


Venus 


Generative 
organs 


Goat 


Dove 


Emerald 


Zaphkiel 


Cassiel 


Saturn 


Right foot 


Mole - 


Hoopoe 


Onyx 



The names of the angels are from Mr Mather's translation of Clavicula 
Salomonis ; the other correspondences are from the second book of 
Agrippa's Occult Philosophy, chap. x. 

In many cases these supposed correspondences are 
based, as will be obvious to the reader, upon purely 
trivial resemblances, and, in any case, whatever may 
be said — and I think a great deal may be said — in 
favour of the theory of symbology, there is little that 
may be adduced to support the old occultists' appli- 
cation of it. 

So essential a part does the use of symbols play in 
all magical operations that we may, I think, modify 
the definition of " magic " adopted at the outset, and 
define " magic " as "an attempt to employ the 
powers of the spiritual world for the production of 
marvellous results, by the aid of symbols ^ It has, 
on the other hand, been questioned whether the 
appeal to the spirit-world is an essential element in 



CEREMONIAL MAGIC 95 

magic. But a close examination of magical practices 
always reveals at the root a belief in spiritual powers 
as the operating causes. The belief in talismans at 
first sight seems to have little to do with that in a 
supernatural realm ; but, as we have seen, the talis- 
man was always a silent invocation of the powers of 
some spiritual being with which it was symbolically 
connected, and whose sign was engraved thereon. 
And, as Dr T. Witton Davies well remarks with 
regard to " sympathetic magic " : " Even this 
could not, at the start, be anything other than 
a symbolic prayer to the spirit or spirits having 
authority in these matters. In so far as no spirit 
is thought of, it is a mere survival, and not magic 
at all. ..." 1 

What I regard as the two essentials of magical 
practices, namely, the use of symbols and the appeal 
to the supernatural realm, are most obvious in what 
is called " ceremonial magic ". Mediaeval cere- 
monial magic was subdivided into three chief 
branches — White Magic, Black Magic, and Necro- 
mancy. White magic was concerned with the evoca- 
tions of angels, spiritual beings supposed to be essen- 
tially superior to mankind, concerning which I shall 
give some further details later — and the spirits of 
the elements, — which were, as I have mentioned in 
" Some Characteristics of Mediaeval Thought," per- 
sonifications of the primeval forces of Nature. As 
there were supposed to be four elements, fire, air, 
water, and earth, so there were supposed to be four 
classes of elementals or spirits of the elements, namely, 

^ Dr T. Witton Davies: Magic, Divination, and Detnon- 
ology among the Hebrews and their Neighbours (1898), p. 17. 



96 BYGONE BELIEFS 

Salamanders, Sylphs, Undines, and Gnomes, inhabit- 
ing these elements respectively, and deriving their 
characters therefrom. Concerning these curious 
beings, the inquisitive reader may gain some infor- 
mation from a quaint little book, by the Abbe de 
MoNTFAUCON DE ViLLARS, entitled The Count of 
Gahalis, or Conferences about Secret Sciences (1670), 
translated into English and published in 1680, which 
has recently been reprinted. The elementals, we 
learn therefrom, were, unlike other supernatural 
beings, thought to be mortal. They could, how- 
ever, be rendered immortal by means of sexual 
intercourse with men or women, as the case might 
be ; and it was, we are told, to the noble end of 
endowing them with this great gift, that the sages 
devoted themselves. 

Goety, or black magic, was concerned with the 
evocation of demons and devils — spirits supposed 
to be superior to man in certain powers, but utterly 
depraved. Sorcery may be distinguished from 
witchcraft, inasmuch as the sorcerer attempted to 
command evil spirits by the aid of charms, etc.^ 
whereas the witch or wizard was supposed to have 
made a pact with the Evil One ; though both terms 
have been rather loosely used, " sorcery " being 
sometimes employed as a synonym for " necro- 
mancy ". Necromancy was concerned with the 
evocation of the spirits of the dead : etymologically, 
the term stands for the art of foretelling events by 
means of such evocations, though it is frequently 
employed in the wider sense. 

It would be unnecessary and tedious to give any 
detailed account of the methods employed in these 



CEREMONIAL MAGIC 97 

magical arts beyond some general remarks. Mr 
A. E. Waite gives full particulars of the various 
rituals in his Book of Ceremonial Magic (191 1), to 
which the curious reader may be referred. The 
following will, in brief terms, convey a general idea 
of a magical evocation : — 

Choosing a time when there is a favourable con- 
junction of the planets, the magician, armed with 
the implements of magical art, after much prayer 
and fasting, betakes himself to a suitable spot, alone, 
or perhaps accompanied by two trusty companions. 
All the articles he intends to employ, the vestments, 
the magic sword and lamp, the talismans, the book 
of spirits, etc., have been specially prepared and 
consecrated. If he is about to invoke a martial 
spirit, the magician's vestment will be of a red colour, 
the talismans in virtue of which he may have power 
over the spirit will be of iron, the day chosen a Tues- 
day, and the incense and perfumes employed of a 
nature analogous to Mars. In a similar manner all 
the articles employed and the rites performed must 
in some way be symbolical of the spirit with which 
converse is desired. Having arrived at the spot, the 
magician first of all traces the magic circle within 
which, we are told, no evil spirit can enter ; he then 
commences the magic rite, involving various prayers 
and conjurations, a medley of meaningless words, 
and, in the case of the black art, a sacrifice. The 
spirit summoned then appears (at least, so we are 
told), and, after granting the magician's request, is 
licensed to depart — a matter, we are admonished, of 
great importance. 

The question naturallv arises, What were the 

7 



98 BYGONE BELIEFS 

results obtained by these magical arts ? How far, 
if at all, was the magician rewarded by the attainment 
of his desires ? We have asked a similar question 
regarding the belief in talismans, and the reply which 
we there gained undoubtedly applies in the present 
case as well. Modern psychical research, as I have 
already pointed out, is supplying us with further 
evidence for the survival of human personality after 
bodily death than the innate conviction humanity in 
general seems to have in this belief, and the many 
reasons which idealistic philosophy advances in 
favour of it. The question of the reality of the 
phenomenon of " materialisation," that is, the bodily 
appearance of a discarnate spirit, such as is vouched 
for by spiritists, and which is what, it appears, 
was aimed at in necromancy (though why the dis- 
carnate should be better informed as to the future 
than the incarnate, I cannot suppose), must be re- 
garded as suh judice} Many cases of fraud in con- 
nection with the alleged production of this pheno- 
menon have been detected in recent times ; but, 
inasmuch as the last word has not yet been said on 
the subject, we must allow the possibility that necro- 
mancy in the past may have been sometimes success- 
ful. But as to the existence of the angels and devils 
of magical belief — as well, one might add, of those 
of orthodox faith, — nothing can be adduced in evi- 
dence of this either from the results of psychical 
research or on a priori grounds. 

Pseudo-DiONYSius classified the angels into three 

* The late Sir William Crookes' Experimental Researches 
in the Phenomena of Spiritualism contains evidence in favour 
of the reaUty of this phenomenon very difficult to gainsay. 



To face p. 98. 



PLATE 15. 




Fig. 32. 
Magical Circle, from The Lesser Key of Solomon the King. 



CEREMONIAL MAGIC 99 

hierarchies, each subdivided into three orders, 
as under : — 

First Hierarchy. — Seraphim, Cherubim, and 

Thrones ; 
Second Hierarchy. — Dominions, Powers, and 

Authorities (or Virtues) ; 
Third Hierarchy. — PrincipaHties, Archangels, and 

Angels, — 

and this classification was adopted by Agrippa and 
others. Pseudo-DiONYSius explains the names of 
these orders as follows : " . . . the holy designation 
of the Seraphim denotes either that they are kindling 
or burning ; and that of the Cherubim, a fulness of 
knowledge or stream of wisdom. . . . The appella- 
tion of the most exalted and pre-eminent Thrones 
denotes their manifest exaltation above every grovel- 
ling inferiority, and their super-mundane tendency 
towards higher things ; . . . and their invariable and 
firmly-fixed settlement around the veritable Highest, 
with the whole force of their powers. . . . The 
explanatory name of the Holy Lordships [Dominions] 
denotes a certain unslavish elevation . . . superior 
to every kind of cringing slavery, indomitable to 
every subserviency, and elevated above every dis- 
simularity, ever aspiring to the true Lordship and 
source of Lordship. . . . The appellation of the 
Holy Powers denotes a certain courageous and un- 
flinching virility . . . vigorously conducted to the 
Divine imitation, not forsaking the Godlike move- 
ment through its own unmanliness, but unflinchingly 
looking to the super-essential and powerful-making 
power, and becoming a powerlike image of this, as 



100 BYGONE BELIEFS 

far as is attainable. . . . The appellation of the 
Holy Authorities . . . denotes the beautiful and un- 
confused good order, with regard to Divine receptions, 
and the discipline of the super-mundane and in- 
tellectual authority . . . conducted indomitably, with 
good order towards Divine things. . . . [And the 
appellation] of the Heavenly Principalities manifests 
their princely and leading function, after the Divine 
example. . . ." ^ There is a certain grandeur in 
these views, and if we may be permitted to under- 
stand by the orders of the hierarchy, " discrete " 
degrees (to use Swedenborg's term) of spiritual 
reality — stages in spiritual involution, — we may 
see in them a certain truth as well. As I said, all 
virtue, power, and knowledge which man has from 
God was believed to descend to him by way of these 
angelical hierarchies, step by step ; and thus it was 
thought that those of the lowest hierarchy alone were 
sent from heaven to man. It was such beings that 
white magic pretended to evoke. But the practical 
occultists, when they did not make them altogether 
fatuous, attributed to these angels characters not 
distinguishable from those of the devils. The 
description of the angels in the Heptamerofiy or 
Magical Elements,^ falsely attributed to Peter de 

^ On the Heavenly Hierarchy. See the Rev. John Parker's 
translation of The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite, vol. ii. 
(1889), pp. 24. 25, 31, 32, and 36. 

2 The book, which first saw the light three centuries after 
its alleged author's death, was translated into English by 
Robert Turner, and published in 1655 in a volume containing 
the spurious Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, attributed to 
Cornelius Agrippa, and other magical works. It is from 
this edition that I quote. 



CEREMONIAL MAGIC loi 

Abano (1250-13 1 6), may be taken as fairly charac- 
teristic. Of Michael and the other spirits of Sunday 
he writes : " Their nature is to procure Gold, 
Gemmes, Carbuncles, Riches ; to cause one to 
obtain favour and benevolence ; to dissolve the 
enmities of men ; to raise men to honors ; to carry 
or take away infirmities." Of Gabriel and the 
other spirits of Monday, he says : '* Their nature is 
to give silver ; to convey things from place to place ; 
to make horses swift, and to disclose the secrets of 
persons both present and future." Of Samael and 
the other spirits of Tuesday he says : " Their nature 
is to cause wars, mortality, death and combustions ; 
and to give two thousand Souldiers at a time ; to 
bring death, infirmities or health," and so on for 
Raphael, Sachiel, Anael, Cassiel, and their 
colleagues.^ 

Concerning the evil planetary spirits, the spurious 
Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, attributed to 
Cornelius Agrippa, informs us that the spirits of 
Saturn " appear for the most part with a tall, lean, 
and slender body, with an angry countenance, having 
four faces ; one in the hinder part of the head, one 
on the former part of the head, and on each side 
nosed or beaked : there likewise appeareth a face 
on each knee, of a black shining colour : their motion 
is the moving of the winde, with a kinde of earth- 
quake : their signe is white earth, whiter than any 
Snow." The writer adds that their " particular 
forms are, — 

A King having a beard, riding on a Dragon. 

An Old man with a beard. 

^ Op. cit., pp. 90, 92, and 94. 



102 BYGONE BELIEFS 

An Old woman leaning on a staffe. 

A Hog. 

A Dragon. 

An Owl. 

A black Garment. 

A Hooke or Sickle. 

A Juniper-tree." 
Concerning the spirits of Jupiter, he says that they 
'' appear with a body sanguine and cholerick, of a 
middle stature, with a horrible fearful motion ; but 
with a milde countenance, a gentle speech, and of the 
colour of Iron. The motion of them is flashings of 
Lightning and Thunder ; their signe is, there will 
appear men about the circle, who shall seem to be 
devoured of Lions," their particular forms being — 

" A King with a Sword drawn, riding on a Stag. 

A Man wearing a Mitre in long rayment. 

A Maid with a Laurel-Crown adorned with 
Flowers. 

A Bull. 

A Stag. 

A Peacock. 

An azure Garment. 

A Sword. 

A Box-tree." 
As to the Martian spirits, we learn that " they appear 
in a tall body, cholerick, a filthy countenance, of 
colour brown, swarthy or red, having horns like 
Harts horns, and Griphins claws, bellowing like 
wilde Bulls. Their Motion is like fire burning ; 
their signe Thunder and Lightning about the Circle. 
Their particular shapes are, — 

A King armed riding upon a Wolf. 



To face p- 102. 



PLATE 10. 




Fig. 33. 

Magical Instruments— Lamp. Rod, Sword, and Dagger— according to 

Eliphas Levi. 



CEREMONIAL MAGIC 103 

A Man armed. 

A Woman holding a buckler on her thigh. 

A Hee-goat. 

A Horse. 

A Stag. 

A red Garment. 

Wool. 

A Cheeslip." 1 
The rest are described in equally fantastic terms. 

I do not think I shall be accused of being unduly 
sceptical if I say that such beings as these could not 
have been evoked by any magical rites, because such 
beings do not and did not exist, save in the magician's 
own imagination. The proviso, however, is impor- 
tant, for, inasmuch as these fantastic beings did 
exist in the imagination of the credulous, therein 
they may, indeed, have been evoked. The whole 
of magic ritual was well devised to produce halluci- 
nation. A firm faith in the ritual employed, and a 
strong effort of will to bring about the desired result, 
were usually insisted upon as essential to the success 
of the operation. 2 A period of fasting prior to the 
experiment was also frequently prescribed as neces- 

1 Op. cit., pp. 43-45- 

'•^ " Magical Axiom, In the circle of its action, every word 
creates that which it affirms. 

" Direct Consequence. He who affirms the devil, creates 
or makes the devil. 

" Conditions of Success in Infernal Evocations, i. Invincible 
obstinacy ; 2, a conscience at once hardened to crime and 
most subject to remorse and fear; 3, affected or natural 
ignorance ; 4, bUnd faith in all that is incredible ; 5, a com- 
pletely false idea of God." (^liphas L6vi : Op. cit., pp. 297 
and 298.) 



104 BYGONE BELIEFS 

sary, which, by weakening the body, must have been 
conducive to hallucination. Furthermore, absten- 
tion from the gratification of the sexual appetite was 
stipulated in certain cases, and this, no doubt, had 
a similar effect, especially as concerns magical evoca- 
tions directed to the satisfaction of the sexual impulse. 
Add to these factors the details of the ritual itself, 
the nocturnal conditions under which it was carried 
out, and particularly the suffumigations employed, 
which, most frequently, were of a narcotic nature, 
and it is not difficult to believe that almost any type 
of hallucination may have occurred. Such, as we 
have seen, was £liphas Levi's view of ceremonial 
magic ; and whatever may be said as concerns his 
own experiment therein (for one would have thought 
that the essential element of faith was lacking in this 
case), it is undoubtedly the true view as concerns 
the ceremonial magic of the past. As this author 
well says : " Witchcraft, properly so-called, that is 
ceremonial operation with intent to bewitch, acts 
only on the operator, and serves to fix and confirm 
his will, by formulating it with persistence and labour, 
the two conditions which make volition efficacious." ^ 
Emanuel Swedenborg in one place writes : 
" Magic is nothing but the perversion of order ; it is 
especially the abuse of correspondences." ^ A study 
of the ceremonial magic of the Middle Ages and the 
following century or two certainly justifies Sweden- 
borg in writing of magic as something evil. The 
distinction, rigid enough in theory, between white 
and black, legitimate and illegitimate, magic, was, 

* £liphas Liivi : Op. ciL, pp. 130 and 131. 

2 Emanuel Swedenborg : Arcana Ccelcstia, § 6692. 



CEREMONIAL MAGIC 105 

as I have indicated, extremely indefinite in practice. 
As Mr A. E. Waite justly remarks : " Much that 
passed current in the west as White (i.e. permissible) 
Magic was only a disguised goeticism, and many of 
the resplendent angels invoked with divine rites 
reveal their cloven hoofs. It is not too much to say 
that a large majority of past psychological experi- 
ments were conducted to establish communication 
with demons, and that for unlawful purposes. The 
popular conceptions concerning the diabolical spheres, 
which have been all accredited by magic, may have 
been gross exaggerations of fact concerning rudi- 
mentary and perverse intelligences, but the wilful 
viciousness of the communicants is substantially un- 
touched thereby." ^ 

These " psychological experiments " were not, 
save, perhaps, in rare cases, carried out in the spirit 
of modern psychical research, with the high aim of 
the man of science. It was, indeed, far otherwise ; 
selfish motives were at the root of most of them ; 
and, apart from what may be termed " medicinal 
magic," it was for the satisfaction of greed, lust, 
revenge, that men and women had recourse to magical 
arts. The history of goeticism and witchcraft is 
one of the most horrible of all histories. The 
*' Grimoires," witnesses to the superstitious folly of 
the past, are full of disgusting, absurd, and even 
criminal rites for the satisfaction of unlawful desires 
and passions. The Church was certainly justified in 
attempting to put down the practice of magic, but 
the means adopted in this design and the results to 

* Arthur Edward Waite: The Occult Sciences (1891), 
P-5I. 



io6 BYGONE BELIEFS 

which they led were even more abominable than 
witchcraft itself. The methods of detecting witches 
and the tortures to which suspected persons were 
subjected to force them to confess to imaginary 
crimes, employed in so-called civilised England and 
Scotland and also in America, to say nothing of 
countries in which the '' Holy " Inquisition held un- 
disputed sway, are almost too horrible to describe. 
For details the reader may be referred to Sir Walter 
Scott's Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830), 
and (as concerns America) Cotton Mather's The 
Wonders of the Invisible World (1692). The credu- 
lous Church and the credulous people were terribly 
afraid of the power of witchcraft, and, as always, fear 
destroyed their mental balance and made them totally 
disregard the demands of justice. The result may 
be well illustrated by what almost inevitably happens 
when a country goes to war ; for war, as the Hon. 
Bertrand Russell has well shown, is fear's offspring. 
Fear of the enemy causes the military party to perse- 
cute in an insensate manner, without the least regard 
to justice, all those of their fellow-men whom they 
consider are not heart and soul with them in their 
cause ; similarly the Church relentlessly persecuted 
its supposed enemies, of whom it was so afraid. No 
doubt some of the poor wretches that were tortured 
and killed on the charge of witchcraft really believed 
themselves to have made a pact with the devil, and 
were thus morally depraved, though, generally speak- 
ing, they were no more responsible for their actions 
than any other madmen. But the majority of the 
persons persecuted as witches and wizards were 
innocent even of this. 



CEREMONIAL MAGIC 107 

However, it would, I think, be unwise to disregard 
the existence of another side to the question of the 
validity and ethical value of magic, and to use the 
word only to stand for something essentially evil. 
SwEDENBORG, we may note, in the course of a long 
passage from the work from which I have already 
quoted, says that by " magic " is signified ** the 
science of spiritual things ".^ His position appears 
to be that there is a genuine magic, or science of 
spiritual things, and a false magic, that science per- 
verted : a view of the matter which I propose here 
to adopt. The word " magic " itself is derived from 
the Greek " iJiayos,''^ the wise man of the East, and 
hence the strict etymological meaning of the term 
is " the wisdom or science of the magi " ; and it is, I 
think, significant that we are told (and I see no reason 
to doubt the truth of it) that the magi were among 
the first to worship the new-born Christ. ^ 

If there be an abuse of correspondences, or symbols, 
there surely must also be a use, to which the word 
" magic " is not inapplicable. As such, religious 
ritual, and especially the sacraments of the Christian 
Church, will, no doubt, occur to the minds of those 
who regard these symbols as efficacious, though they 
would probably hesitate to apply the term " magical " 
to them. But in using this term as applying thereto, 
I do not wish to suggest that any such rites or cere- 
monies possess, or can possess, any causal efficacy in 
the moral evolution of the soul. The will alone, in 
virtue of the power vouchsafed to it by the Source 

1 Op. ciL, § 5223. 

^ See The Gospel according to Matthew, chap, ii., verses 
I to 12. 



io8 BYGONE BELIEFS 

of all power, can achieve this ; but I do think that 
the soul may be assisted by ritual, harmoniously 
related to the states of mind which it is desired to 
induce. No doubt there is a danger of religious 
ritual, especially when its meaning is lost, being 
engaged in for its own sake. It is then mere super- 
stition ; ^ and, in view of the danger of this de- 
generacy, many robust minds, such as the members 
of the Society of Friends, prefer to dispense with 
its aid altogether. When ritual is associated with 
erroneous doctrines, the results are even more 
disastrous, as I have indicated in '' The Belief in 
Talismans ". But when ritual is allied with, and 
based upon, as adequately symbolising, the high 
teaching of genuine religion, it may be, and, in fact, 
is, found very helpful by many people. As such its 
efficacy seems to me to be altogether magical, in the 
best sense of that word. 

But, indeed, I think a still wider application of 
the word " magic " is possible. '* All experience is 
magic," says NovALis (i 772-1801), " and only magic- 
ally explicable " ; ^ and again : " It is only because of 
the feebleness of our perceptions and activity that 
we do not perceive ourselves to be in a fairy world." 
No doubt it will be objected that the common ex- 
periences of daily life are " natural," whereas magic 
postulates the " supernatural ". If, as is frequently 
done, we use the term " natural," as relating exclus- 

^ As " £liphas L6vi " well says: " Superstition ... is the 
sign surviving the thought ; it is the dead body of a religious 
rite." {Op cit., p. 150.) 

■■^ NovALis: Schriften (ed. by Ludwig Tieck and Fr. 

SCHLEGEL, 1805), vol. ii. p. I95, 



CEREMONIAL MAGIC 109 

ively to the physical realm, then, indeed, we may well 
speak of magic as '' supernatural," because its aims are 
psychical. On the other hand, the term *' natural " 
is sometimes employed as referring to the whole 
realm of order, and in this sense one can use the word 
" magic " as descriptive of Nature herself when viewed 
in the light of an idealistic philosophy, such as that 
of SwEDENBORG, in which all causation is seen to be 
essentially spiritual, the things of this world being 
envisaged as symbols of ideas or spiritual verities, 
and thus physical causation regarded as an appear- 
ance produced in virtue of the magical, non-causal 
efficacy of symbols. ^ Says Cornelius Agrippa : 
** . . . every day some natural thing is drawn by art 
and some divine thing is drawn by Nature which, 
the Egyptians, seeing, called Nature a Magicianess 
(i.e.) the very Magical power itself, in the attracting 
of like by like, and of suitable things by suitable." ^ 
I would suggest, in conclusion, that there is nothing 
really opposed to the spirit of modern science in the 
thesis that '* all experience is magic, and only magic- 
ally explicable." Science does not pretend to reveal 
the fundamental or underlying cause of phenomena, 
does not pretend to answer the final Why ? This is 
rather the business of philosophy, though, in thus 
distinguishing between science and philosophy, I am 
far from insinuating that philosophy should be other- 
wise than scientific. We often hear religious but 
non-scientific men complain because scientific and 
perhaps equally as religious men do not in their 

* For a discussion of the essentially magical character of in- 
ductive reasoning, see my The Magic of Experience (1915). 
2 Op. cit., bk. i. chap, xxxvii. p. 119. 



no BYGONE BELIEFS 

books ascribe the production of natural phenomena 
to the Divine Power. But if they were so to 
do they would be transcending their business as 
scientists. In every science certain simple facts 
of experience are taken for granted : it is the 
business of the scientist to reduce other and more 
complex facts of experience to terms of these data, 
not to explain these data themselves. Thus the 
physicist attempts to reduce other related phenomena 
of greater complexity to terms of simple force and 
motion ; but, What are force and motion ? Why 
does force produce or result in motion ? are questions 
which lie beyond the scope of physics. In order to 
answer these questions, if, indeed, this be possible, 
we must first inquire. How and why do these ideas 
of force and motion arise in our minds ? These 
problems land us in the psychical or spiritual world, 
and the term " magic " at once becomes significant. 
" If," says Thomas Carlyle, " . . . we . . . have 
led thee into the true Land of Dreams ; and . . . 
thou lookest, even for moments, into the region of 
the Wonderful, and seest and feelest that thy daily 
life is girt with Wonder, and based on Wonder, and 
thy very blankets and breeches are Miracles, — then 
art thou profited beyond money's worth. . . ." ^ 

1 Thomas Carlyle : Sartor Resartus, bk. iii. chap. ix. 



VIII 

ARCHITECTURAL SYMBOLISM 

I WAS once rash enough to suggest in an essay " On 
SymboHsm in Art " ^ that ** a true work of art is at 
once reaHstic, imaginative, and symboUcal," and that 
its aim is to make manifest the spiritual significance 
of the natural objects deah with. I trust that those 
artists (no doubt many) who disagree with me will 
forgive me — a man of science — for having ventured 
to express any opinion whatever on the subject. 
But, at any rate, if the suggestions in question are 
accepted, then a criterion for distinguishing between 
art and craft is at once available ; for we may say that, 
whilst craft aims at producing works which are physi- 
cally useful, art aims at producing works which are 
spiritually useful. Architecture, from this point of 
view, is a combination of craft and art. It may, in- 
deed, be said that the modern architecture which 
creates our dwelling-houses, factories, and even to 
a large extent our places of worship, is pure craft 
unmixed with art. On the other hand, it might be 
argued that such works of architecture arc not always 

^ Published in Tlie Occult Review for August 1912, vol. xvi, 
pp. 98 to 102. 



112 BYGONE BELIEFS 

devoid of decoration, and that " decorative art," 
even though the " decorative artist " is unconscious 
of this fact, is based upon rules and employs symbols 
which have a deep significance. The truly artistic 
element in architecture, however, is more clearly 
manifest if we turn our gaze to the past. One thinks 
at once, of course, of the pyramids and sphinx of 
Egypt, and the rich and varied symbolism of design 
and decoration of antique structures to be found in 
Persia and elsewhere in the East. It is highly prob- 
able that the Egyptian pyramids were employed 
for astronomical purposes, and thus subserved 
physical utility, but it seems no less likely that their 
shape was suggested by a belief in some system of 
geometrical symbolism, and was intended to embody 
certain of their philosophical or religious doctrines. 

The mediaeval cathedrals and churches of Europe 
admirably exhibit this combination of art with craft. 
Craft was needed to design and construct permanent 
buildings to protect worshippers from the inclemency 
of the weather ; art was employed not only to deco- 
rate such buildings, but it dictated to craft many 
points in connection with their design. The builders 
of the mediaeval churches endeavoured so to con- 
struct their works that these might, as a whole and 
in their various parts, embody the truths, as they 
believed them, of the Christian religion : thus the 
cruciform shape of churches, their orientation, etc. 
The practical value of symbolism in church archi- 
tecture is obvious. As Mr F. E. Hulme remarks, 
" The sculptured fonts or stained-glass windows 
in the churches of the Middle Ages were full of 
teaching to a congregation of whom the greater 



To face p. 112. 



PLATE 17. 




Fig. 34. 

Agnus Dei, Sixteenth-century Font, Southfleet, Kent, from 

Collins' Symbolism of Animals. 

(Bv kind permission of the Author.) 




Unicorn, Sixteenth-century Font, Southfleet, Kent, from 
Collins' Symbolism of Animals. 

(By kind permission of the Author.) 



ARCHITECTURAL SYMBOLISM 113 

part could not read, to whom therefore one great 
avenue of knowledge was closed. The ignorant are 
especially impressed by pictorial teaching, and grasp 
its meaning far more readily than they can follow a 
written description or a spoken discourse." ^ 

The subject of symbolism in church architecture 
is an extensive one, involving many side issues. In 
these excursions we shall consider only one aspect 
of it, namely, the symbolic use of animal forms in 
English church architecture. 

As Mr Collins, who has written, in recent years, 
an interesting work on this topic of much use to 
archaeologists as a book of data,^ points out, the great 
sources of animal symbolism were the famous 
Physiologus and other natural history books of the 
Middle Ages (generally called " Bestiaries "), and 
the Bible, mystically understood. The modern ten- 
dency is somewhat unsympathetic towards any 
attempt to interpret the Bible symbolically, and 
certainly some of the interpretations that have been 
forced upon it in the name of symbolism are crude 
and fantastic enough. But in the belief of the 
mystics, culminating in the elaborate system of cor- 
respondences of SwEDENBORG, that every natural 
object, every event in the history of the human race, 
and every word of the Bible, has a symbolic and 
spiritual significance, there is, I think, a fundamental 
truth. We must, however, as I have suggested 
already, distinguish between true and forced symbol- 

^ F. Edward Hulme, F.L.S., F.S.A. : The History, Prin- 
ciples, and Practice of Symbolism in Christian Art (1909), p. 2. 

^ Arthur H. Collins, M.A. : Symbolism of Animals and 
Birds represented in English Church Architecture (1913). 

8 



114 BYGONE BELIEFS 

ism. The early Christians employed the fish as a 
symbol of Christ, because the Greek word for fish, 
tX^i/?, is obtained by notariqon ^ from the phrase 

'lwov9 Xptaro?, deod Yto?, 'Zwri'ip — " JeSUS ChRIST, the 

Son of God, the Saviour." Of course, the obvious 
use of such a symbol was its entire unintelligibility 
to those who had not yet been instructed in the 
mysteries of the Christian faith, since in the days of 
persecution some degree of secrecy was necessary. 
But the symbol has significance only in the Greek 
language, and that of an entirely arbitrary nature. 
There is nothing in the nature of the fish, apart from 
its name in Greek, which renders it suitable to be 
used as a symbol of Christ. Contrast this pseudo- 
symbol, however, with that of the Good Shepherd, 
the Lamb of God (fig. 34), or the Lion of Judah. 
Here we have what may be regarded as true 
symbols, something of whose meanings are clear to 
the smallest degree of spiritual sight, even though 
the second of them has frequently been badly 
misinterpreted. 

It was a belief in the spiritual or moral significance 
of nature similar to that of the mystical expositors 
of the Bible, that inspired the mediaeval naturalists. 
The Bestiaries almost invariably conclude the account 
of each animal with the moral that might be drawn 
from its behaviour. The interpretations are fre- 
quently very far-fetched, and as the writers were 
more interested in the morals than in the facts of 
natural history themselves, the supposed facts from 
which they drew their morals were frequently very 

^ A Kabalistic process by which a word is formed by taking 
the initial letters of a sentence or phrase. 



To face p. 114. 



PLATE 18. 










-^ o 



V ^ S 




O ;o — 

"Si's 



c -0 




§j 


+-> 


^ 


rn 


^ 










•'-' 


in 


- 


7, 








_! 




J 


(ll 





Lh 


U 


ni 














ARCHITECTURAL SYMBOLISM 115 

far from being of the nature of facts. Sometimes 
the product of this inaccuracy is grotesque, as shown 
by the following quotation : " The elephants are in 
an absurd way typical of Adam and Eve, who ate of 
the forbidden fruit, and also have the dragon for 
their enemy. It was supposed that the elephant . . . 
used to sleep by leaning against a tree. The hunters 
would come by night, and cut the trunk through. 
Down he would come, roaring helplessly. None of 
his friends would be able to help him, until a small 
elephant should come and lever him up with his 
trunk. This small elephant was symbolic of Jesus 
Christ, Who came in great humility to rescue the 
human race which had fallen * through a tree.' " ^ 

In some cases, though the symbolism is based upon 
quite erroneous notions concerning natural history, 
and is so far fantastic, it is not devoid of charm. The 
use of the pelican to symbolise the Saviour is a case 
in point. Legend tells us that when other food is 
unobtainable, the pelican thrusts its bill into its 
breast (whence the red colour of the bill) and feeds 
its young with its life-blood. Were this only a fact, 
the symbol would be most appropriate. There is 
another and far less charming form of the legend, 
though more in accord with current perversions of 
Christian doctrine, according to which the pelican 
uses its blood to revive its young, after having slain 
them through anger aroused by the great provoca- 
tion which they are supposed to give it. For an 
example of the use of the pelican in church archi- 
tecture see fig. 36. 

Mention must also be made of the purely fabulous 
^ A. H. Collins : Symbolism of A7iimals,ctc., pp. 41 and 42. 



ii6 BYGONE BELIEFS 

animals of the Bestiaries, such as the basihsk, centaur, 
dragon, griffin, hydra, mantichora, unicorn, phoenix, 
etc. The centaur (fig. 39) was a beast, half man, 
half horse. It typified the flesh or carnal mind of 
man, and the legend of the perpetual war between 
the centaur and a certain tribe of simple savages 
who were said to live in trees in India, symbolised 
the combat between the flesh and the spirit.^ 

With bow and arrow in its hands the centaur forms 
the astrological sign Sagittarius (or the Archer). 
An interesting example of this sign occurring in 
church architecture is to be found on the western 
doorway of Portchester Church — a most beautiful 
piece of Norman architecture. " This sign of the 
Zodiac," writes the Rev. Canon Vaughan, M.A., a 
former Vicar of Portchester, '* was the badge of 
King Stephen, and its presence on the west front [of 
Portchester Church] seems to indicate, what was often 
the case elsewhere, that the elaborate Norman carving 
was not carried out until after the completion of the 
building." ^ The facts, however, that this Sagit- 
tarius is accompanied on the other side of the door- 
way by a couple of fishes, which form the astrological 
sign Pisces (or the Fishes), and that these two signs 
are what are termed, in astrological phraseology, 
the " houses " of the planet Jupiter, the " Major 
Fortune," suggest that the architect responsible for 
the design, influenced by the astrological notions of 
his day, may have put the signs there in order to 

^ A. H, Collins: Symbolism of Animals, etc, pp. 150 and 

153- 

2 Rev, Canon Vaughan, M.A. : A Short History of Port- 
chester Castle, -p. 14. 



To face p. lib. 



PLATE 19. 




Fig. 38. 

Western Doorway of Porchester Church, Hants, 
showing Sagittarius and Pisces. 



ARCHITECTURAL SYMBOLISM 117 

attract Jupiter's beneficent influence. Or he may 
have had the Sagittarius carved for the reason Canon 
Vaughan suggests, and then, remembering how good 
a sign it was astrologically, had the Pisces added to 
complete the effect. ^ 

The phoenix and griffin we have encountered 
already in our excursions. The latter, we are told, 
inhabits desert places in India, where it can find 
nothing for its young to eat. It flies away to other 
regions to seek food, and is sufficiently strong to 
carry off an ox. Thus it symbolises the devil, who 
is ever anxious to carry away our souls to the deserts 
of hell. Fig. 37 illustrates an example of the use 
of this symbolic beast in church architecture. 

1 Two other possible explanations of the Pisces have been 
suggested by the Rev. A. Headley. In his MS. book written 
in 1888, when he was Vicar of Portchester, he writes : " I have 
discovered an interesting proof that it [the Church] was finished 
in Stephen's reign, namely, the figure of Sagittarius in the 
Western Doorway. 

" Stephen adopted this as his badge for the double reason 
that it formed part of the arms of the city of Blois, and that 
the sun was in Sagittarius in December when he came to the 
throne. I, therefore, conclude that this badge was placed 
where it is to mark the completion of the church. 

" There is another sign of the Zodiac in the archway, 
apparently Pisces. This may have been chosen to mark the 
month in which the church was finished, or simply on account 
of its nearness to the sea. At one time I fancied it might 
refer to March, the month in which Lady Day occurred, thus 
referring to the Patron Saint, St Mary. As the sun leaves 
Pisces just before Lady Day this does not explain it. Possibly 
in the old calendar it might do so. This is a matter for further 
research." (I have to thank the Rev. H, Lawrence Fry, 
present Vicar of Portchester, for this quotation, and the Rev. 
A. Headley for permission to utilise it.) 



ii8 BYGONE BELIEFS 

The mantichora is described by Pliny (whose 
statements were unquestioningly accepted by the 
mediaeval naturalists), on the authority of Ctesias 
(fl. 400 B.C.), as having " A triple row of teeth, which 
fit into each other like those of a comb, the face and 
ears of a man, and azure eyes, is the colour of blood, 
has the body of the lion, and a tail ending in a sting, 
like that of the scorpion. Its voice resembles the 
union of the sound of the flute and the trumpet ; it 
is of excessive swiftness, and is particularly fond of 
human flesh." ^ 

Concerning the unicorn, in an eighteenth-century 
work on natural history we read that this is " a 
Beast, which though doubted of by many Writers, 
yet is by others thus described : He has but one 
Horn, and that an exceedingly rich one, growing out 
of the middle of his Forehead. His Head resembles 
an Hart's, his Feet an Elephant's, his tail a Boar's, 
and the rest of his Body an Horse's. The Horn is 
about a Foot and half in length. His Voice is like 
the Lowing of an Ox. His Mane and Hair are of a 
yellowish Colour. His Horn is as hard as Iron, and 
as rough as any File, twisted or curled, like a flaming 
Sword ; very straight, sharp, and every where black, 
excepting the Point. Great Virtues are attributed 
to it, in expelling of Poison and curing of several 
Diseases. He is not a Beast of prey." ^ The method 
of capturing the animal believed in by mediaeval 
writers was a curious one. The following is a literal 

1 Pliny : Natural History, bk. viii. chap. xxx. (Bostock 
and Riley's trans., vol. ii., 1855, p. 280.) 

2 [Thomas Boreman] : A Description of Three Hundred 
Animals (1730), p. 6. 



To face p. ii8. 



PLATE 20. 




Fig. 39. 
Centaur, from Vlyssis Aldrovandi's Monstrormn Historia (1642) 



?^^f^^^?^^ 




S^-J^S^^^-^ ^, 




Fig. 40 
Mantichora, from A Description of Thyee Hundred Animals (1730). 



ARCHITECTURAL SYMBOLISM 119 

translation from the Bestiary of Philippe de Thaun 
(i2th century) : — 

" Monosceros is an animal which has one horn on its head, 
Therefore it is so named ; it has the form of a goat, 
It is caught by means of a virgin, now hear in what manner. 
When a man intends to hunt it and to take and ensnare it 
He goes to the forest where is its repair ; 
There he places a virgin, with her breast uncovered, 
And by its smell the monosceros perceives it ; 
Then it comes to the virgin, and kisses her breast, 
Falls asleep on her lap, and so comes to its death ; 
The man arrives immediately, and kills it in its sleep. 
Or takes it alive and does as he likes with it. 
It signifies much, I will not omit to tell it you. 

" Monosceros is Greek, it means one horn in French : 
A beast of such a description signifies Jesus Christ ; 
One God he is and shall be, and was and will continue so ; 
He placed himself in the virgin, and took flesh for man's sake. 
And for virginity to show chastity ; 
To a virgin he appeared and a virgin conceived him, 
A virgin she is, and will be, and will remain always. 
Now hear briefly the signification. 

" This animal in truth signifies God ; 
Know that the virgin signifies St Mary ; 
By her breast we understand similarly Holy Church ; 
And then by the kiss it ought to signify. 
That a man when he sleeps is in semblance of death ; 
God slept as man, who suffered death on the cross. 
And his destruction was our redemption. 
And his labour our repose, 

Thus God deceived the Devil by a proper semblance ; 
Soul and body were one, so was God and man. 
And this is the signification of an animal of that description."^ 

^ Popular Treatises on Science written during the Middle 
Ages in Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, and English, ed. by 
Thomas Wright (Historical Society of Science, i84i),pp. 81-82. 



120 BYGONE BELIEFS 

This being the current belief concerning the sym- 
bolism of the unicorn in the Middle Ages, it is not 
surprising to find this animal utilised in church 
architecture ; for an example see fig. 35. 

The belief in the existence of these fabulous beasts 
may very probably have been due to the materialising 
of what were originally nothing more than mere arbit- 
rary symbols, as I have already suggested of the 
phoenix.^ Thus the account of the mantichora may, 
as BosTOCK has suggested, very well be a description 
of certain hieroglyphic figures, examples of which 
are still to be found in the ruins of Assyrian and 
Persian cities. This explanation seems, on the 
whole, more likely than the alternative hypothesis 
that such beliefs were due to mal-observation ; 
though that, no doubt, helped in their formation. 

It may be questioned, however, whether the archi- 
tects and preachers of the Middle Ages altogether 
believed in the strange fables of the Bestiaries. As 
Mr Collins says in reply to this question : " Prob- 
ably they were credulous enough. But, on the 
whole, we may say that the truth of the story was 
just what they did not trouble about, any more than 
some clergymen are particular about the absolute 
truth of the stories they tell children from the pulpit. 
The application, the lesson, is the thing ! " With 
their desire to interpret Nature spiritually, we ought, 
I think, to sympathise. But there was one truth 
they had yet to learn, namely, that in order to in- 
terpret Nature spiritually, it is necessary first to 
understand her aright in her literal sense. 

^ " Superstitions concerning Birds." 



IX 

THE QUEST OF THE 
PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 

The need of unity is a primary need of human 
thought. Behind the varied muhiphcity of the 
world of phenomena, primitive man, as I have in- 
dicated on a preceding excursion, begins to seek, 
more or less consciously, for that Unity which alone 
is Real. And this statement not only applies to the 
first dim gropings of the primitive human mind, but 
sums up almost the whole of science and philosophy; 
for almost all science and philosophy is explicitly or 
implicitly a search for unity, for one law or one love, 
one matter or one spirit. That which is the aim of 
the search may, indeed, be expressed under widely 
different terms, but it is always conceived to be the 
unity in which all multiplicity is resolved, whether 
it be thought of as one final law of necessity, which 
all things obey, and of which all the various other 
" laws of nature " are so many special and limited 
applications ; or as one final love for which all 
things are created, and to which all things aspire ; 
as one matter of which all bodies are but varying 
forms ; or as one spirit, which is the life of all things. 



122 BYGONE BELIEFS 

and of which all things are so many manifestations. 
Every scientist and philosopher is a merchant seeking 
for goodly pearls, willing to sell every pearl that he 
has, if he may secure the One Pearl beyond price, 
because he knows that in that One Pearl all others 
are included. 

This search for unity in multiplicity, however, is 
not confined to the acknowledged scientist and philo- 
sopher. More or less unconsciously everyone is 
engaged in this quest. Harmony and unity are the 
very fundamental laws of the human mind itself, 
and, in a sense, all mental activity is the endeavour 
to bring about a state of harmony and unity in the 
mind. No two ideas that are contradictory of one 
another, and are perceived to be of this nature, can 
permanently exist in any sane man's mind. It is 
true that many people try to keep certain portions of 
their mental life in water-tight compartments ; thus 
some try to keep their religious convictions and their 
business ideas, or their religious faith and their 
scientific knowledge, separate from another one — and, 
it seems, often succeed remarkably well in so doing. 
But, ultimately, the arbitrary mental walls they have 
erected will break down by the force of their own 
ideas. Contradictory ideas from different compart- 
ments will then present themselves to consciousness 
at the same moment of time, and the result of the 
perception of their contradictory nature will be mental 
anguish and turmoil, persisting until one set of ideas 
is conquered and overcome by the other, and harmony 
and unity are restored. 

It is true of all of us, then, that we seek for Unity — 
unity in mind and life. Some seek it in science and 



QUEST OF PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 123 

a life of knowledge ; some seek it in religion and a 
life of faith ; some seek it in human love and find it 
in the life of service to their fellows ; some seek it in 
pleasure and the gratification of the senses' demands ; 
some seek it in the harmonious development of all the 
facets of their being. Many the methods, right and 
wrong ; many the terms under which the One is 
conceived, true and false — in a sense, to use the 
phraseology of a bygone system of philosophy, we 
are all, consciously or unconsciously, following paths 
that lead thither or paths that lead away, seekers in 
the quest of the Philosopher's Stone. 

Let us, in these excursions in the byways of 
thought, consider for a while the form that the quest 
of fundamental unity took in the hands of those 
curious mediaeval philosophers, half mystics, half 
experimentalists in natural things — that are known 
by the name of " alchemists." 

The common opinion concerning alchemy is that 
it was a pseudo-science or pseudo-art flourishing 
during the Dark Ages, and having for its aim the 
conversion of common metals into silver and gold 
by means of a most marvellous and wholly fabulous 
agent called the Philosopher's Stone, that its devotees 
were half knaves, half fools, whose views concerning 
Nature were entirely erroneous, and whose objects 
were entirely mercenary. This opinion is not abso- 
lutely destitute of truth ; as a science alchemy in- 
volved many fantastic errors ; and in the course of 
its history it certainly proved attractive to both knaves 
and fools. But if this opinion involves some element 
of truth, it involves a far greater proportion of error. 
Amongst the alchemists are numbered some of the 



124 BYGONE BELIEFS 

greatest intellects of the Middle Ages — Roger 
Bacon {c. i 214-1294), for example, who might 
almost be called the father of experimental science. 
And whether or not the desire for material wealth 
was a secondary object, the true aim of the genuine 
alchemist was a much nobler one than this — as one 
of them exclaims with true scientific fervour : 
" Would to God ... all men might become adepts 
in our Art — for then gold, the great idol of mankind, 
would lose its value, and we should prize it only for 
its scientific teaching." ^ Moreover, recent develop- 
ments in physical and chemical science seem to indi- 
cate that the alchemists were not so utterly wrong in 
their concept of Nature as has formerly been supposed 
— that, whilst they certainly erred in both their 
methods and their interpretations of individual 
phenomena, they did intuitively grasp certain funda- 
mental facts concerning the universe of the very 
greatest importance. 

Suppose, however, that the theories of the al- 
chemists are entirely erroneous from beginning to 
end, and are nowhere relieved by the merest glimmer 
of truth. Still they were believed to be true, and 
this belief had an important influence upon human 
thought. Many men of science have, I am afraid, 
been too prone to regard the mystical views of the 
alchemists as unintelligible ; but, whatever their 
theories may be to us, these theories were certainly 
very real to them : it is preposterous to maintain 
that the writings of the alchemists are without mean- 

1 EiREN^us Philaletiies : An open Entrance io the Closed 
Palace of the King. (See The Hermetic Museum, Restored and 
Enlarged, ed. by A. E. Waite, 1893, vol. ii. p. 178.) 



QUEST OF PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 125 

ing, even though their views are altogether false. 
And the more false their views are believed to be, 
the more necessary does it become to explain why 
they should have gained such universal credit. 
Here we have problems into which scientific inquiry 
is not only legitimate, but, I think, very desirable, — 
apart altogether from the question of the truth or 
falsity of alchemy as a science, or its utility as an 
art. What exactly was the system of beliefs grouped 
under the term " alchemy," and what was its aim ? 
Why were the beliefs held ? What was their precise 
influence upon human thought and culture ? 

It was in order to elucidate problems of this sort, 
as well as to determine what elements of truth, if 
any, there are in the theories of the alchemists, that 
The Alchemical Society was founded in 19 12, mainly 
through my own efforts and those of my confreres, 
and for the first time someting like justice was being 
done to the memory of the alchemists when the 
Society's activities were stayed by that greatest 
calamity of history, the European War. 

Some students of the writings of the alchemists 
have advanced a very curious and interesting theory 
as to the aims of the alchemists, which may be termed 
*' the transcendental theory ". According to this 
theory, the alchemists were concerned only with the 
mystical processes affecting the soul of man, and their 
chemical references are only to be understood 
symbolically. In my opinion, however, this view 
of the subject is rendered untenable by the lives of 
the alchemists themselves ; for, as Mr Waite has 
very fully pointed out in his Lives of Alchemystical 
Philosophers (1888), the lives of the alchemists show 



126 BYGONE BELIEFS 

them to have been mainly concerned with chemical 
and physical processes ; and, indeed, to their labours 
we owe many valuable discoveries of a chemical 
nature. But the fact that such a theory should ever 
have been formulated, and should not be altogether 
lacking in consistency, may serve to direct our atten- 
tion to the close connection between alchemy and 
mysticism. 

If we wish to understand the origin and aims of 
alchemy we must endeavour to recreate the atmo- 
sphere of the Middle Ages, and to look at the subject 
from the point of view of the alchemists themselves. 
Now, this atmosphere was, as I have indicated in a 
previous essay, surcharged with mystical theology 
and mystical philosophy. Alchemy, so to speak, 
was generated and throve in a dim religious light. 
We cannot open a book by any one of the better sort 
of alchemists without noticing how closely their 
theology and their chemistry are interwoven, and 
what a remarkably religious view they take of their 
subject. Thus one alchemist writes : " In the first 
place, let every devout and God-fearing chemist and 
student of this Art consider that this arcanum should 
be regarded, not only as a truly great, but as a most 
holy Art (seeing that it typifies and shadows out the 
highest heavenly good). Therefore, if any man 
desire to reach this great and unspeakable Mystery, 
he must remember that it is obtained not by the 
might of man, but by the grace of God, and that not 
our will or desire, but only the mercy of the Most 
High, can bestow it upon us. For this reason you 
must first of all cleanse your heart, lift it up to Him 
alone, and ask of Him this gift in true, earnest and 



QUEST OF PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 127 

undoubting prayer. He alone can give and bestow 
it." 1 Whilst another alchemist declares : "I am 
firmly persuaded that any unbeliever who got truly 
to know this Art, would straightway confess the 
truth of our Blessed Religion, and believe in the 
Trinity and in our Lord Jesus Christ." ^ 

Now, what I suggest is that the alchemists con- 
structed their chemical theories for the main part 
by means of a priori reasoning, and that the premises 
from which they started were (i.) the truth of mystical 
theology, especially the doctrine of the soul's re- 
generation, and (ii.) the truth of mystical philosophy, 
which asserts that the objects of Nature are symbols 
of spiritual verities. There is, I think, abundant 
evidence to show that alchemy was a more or less 
deliberate attempt to apply, according to the prin- 
ciples of analogy, the doctrines of religious mysti- 
cism to chemical and physical phenomena. Some 
of this evidence I shall attempt to put forward in 
this essay. 

In the first place, however, I propose to say a few 
words more in description of the theological and 
philosophical doctrines which so greatly influenced 
the alchemists, and which, I believe, they borrowed 
for their attempted explanations of chemical and 
physical phenomena. This system of doctrine I 
have termed *' mysticism " — a word which is un- 
fortunately equivocal, and has been used to denote 
various systems of religious and philosophical thought, 

^ The Sophie Hydrolith ; or, Water Stone of the Wise. (See 
The Hermetic Museum, vol. i. pp. 74 and 75.) 

^ Peter Bonus : The New Pearl of Great Price (trans, by 
A. E. Waite, 1894), p. 275. 



128 BYGONE BELIEFS 

from the noblest to the most degraded. I have, 
therefore, further to define my usage of the term. 

By mystical theology I mean that system of religious 
thought which emphasises the unity between Creator 
and creature, though not necessarily to the extent 
of becoming pantheistic. Man, mystical theology 
asserts, has sprung from God, but has fallen away 
from Him through self-love. Within man, however, 
is the seed of divine grace, whereby, if he will follow 
the narrow road of self-renunciation, he may be 
regenerated, born anew, becoming transformed into 
the likeness of God and ultimately indissolubly 
united to God in love. God is at once the Creator 
and the Restorer of man's soul. He is the Origin 
as well as the End of all existence ; and He is also 
the Way to that End. In Christian mysticism, 
Christ is the Pattern, towards which the mystic 
strives ; Christ also is the means towards the attain- 
ment of this end. 

By mystical philosophy I mean that system of 
philosophical thought which emphasises the unity 
of the Cosmos, asserting that God and the spiritual 
may be perceived immanent in the things of this 
world, because all things natural are symbols and 
emblems of spiritual verities. As one of the Golden 
Verses attributed to Pythagoras, which I have 
quoted in a previous essay, puts it : " The Nature 
of this Universe is in all things alike "; commenting 
upon which, Hierocles, writing in the fifth or sixth 
century, remarks that " Nature, in forming this Uni- 
verse after the Divine Measure and Proportion, made 
it in all things conformable and like to itself, analogi- 
cally in different manners. Of all the different 



QUEST OF PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 129 

species, diffused throughout the whole, it made, as 
it were, an Image of the Divine Beauty, imparting 
variously to the copy the perfections of the Original. "^ 
We have, however, already encountered so many in- 
stances of this belief, that no more need be said here 
concerning it. 

In fine, as Dean Inge well says: '' Religious Mysti- 
cism may be defined as the attempt to realise the 
presence of the living God in the soul and in nature, 
or, more generally, as the attempt to realise, in thought 
and feeling, the immanence of the temporal in the 
eternal, and of the eternal in the temporal. ^^ ^ 

Now, doctrines such as these were not only very 
prevalent during the Middle Ages, when alchemy 
so greatly flourished, but are of great antiquity, and 
were undoubtedly believed in by the learned class 
in Egypt and elsewhere in the East in those remote 
days when, as some think, alchemy originated, 
though the evidence, as will, I hope, become plain 
as we proceed, points to a later and post- Christian 
origin for the central theorem of alchemy. So far as 
we can judge from their writings, the more important 
alchemists were convinced of the truth of these doc- 
trines, and it was with such beliefs in mind that they 
commenced their investigations of physical and 
chemical phenomena. Indeed, if we may judge by 
the esteem in which the Hermetic maxim, " What is 
above is as that which is below, what is below is as 
that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of 

1 Commentary o/Hierocles on the Golden Verses of Pytha- 
goras (trans, by N. Rowe, 1906), pp. loi and 102. 

2 William Ralph Inge, M.A, : Christian Mysticism (the 
Bampton Lectures, 1899), p. 5. 

9 



130 BYGONE BELIEFS 

the One Thing," was held by every alchemist, we 
are justified in asserting that the mystical theory of 
the spiritual significance of Nature — a theory with 
which, as we have seen, is closely connected the 
Neoplatonic and Kabalistic doctrine that all things 
emanate in series from the Divine Source of all 
Being — was at the very heart of alchemy. As writes 
one alchemist : " . . . the Sages have been taught of 
God that this natural world is only an image and 
material copy of a heavenly and spiritual pattern ; 
that the very existence of this world is based upon 
the reality of its celestial archetype ; and that God 
has created it in imitation of the spiritual and in- 
visible universe, in order that men might be the 
better enabled to comprehend His heavenly teaching, 
and the wonders of His absolute and ineffable power 
and wisdom. Thus the sage sees heaven reflected 
in Nature as in a mirror ; and he pursues this Art, 
not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love 
of the knowledge which it reveals ; he jealously 
conceals it from the sinner and the scornful, lest 
the mysteries of heaven should be laid bare to the 
vulgar gaze." ^ 

The alchemists, I hold, convinced of the truth of 
this view of Nature, i.e. that principles true of one 
plane of being are true also of all other planes, 
adopted analogy as their guide in dealing with the 
facts of chemistry and physics known to them. They 
endeavoured to explain these facts by an application 
to them of the principles of mystical theology, their 

1 Michael Sendivogius (?) : The New Chemical Light, PL 
II., Concerning Sulphur. (See The Hermetic Museum, vol. ii. 
p. 138.) 



QUEST OF PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 131 

chief aim being to prove the truth of these principles 
as appHed to the facts of the natural realm, and by 
studying natural phenomena to become instructed in 
spiritual truth. They did not proceed by the sure, 
but slow, method of modern science, i.e. the method 
of induction, which questions experience at every 
step in the construction of a theory ; but they boldly 
allowed their imaginations to leap ahead and to 
formulate a complete theory of the Cosmos on the 
strength of but few facts. This led them into many 
fantastic errors, but I would not venture to deny them 
an intuitive perception of certain fundamental truths 
concerning the constitution of the Cosmos, even if 
they distorted these truths and dressed them in a 
fantastic garb. 

Now, as I hope to make plain in the course of 
this excursion, the alchemists regarded the discovery 
of the Philosopher's Stone and the transmutation of 
" base " metals into gold as the consummation of 
the proof of the doctrines of mystical theology as 
applied to chemical phenomena, and it was as such 
that they so ardently sought to achieve the magnum 
opus, as this transmutation was called. Of course, 
it would be useless to deny that many, accepting the 
truth of the great alchemical theorem, sought for 
the Philosopher's Stone because of what was claimed 
for it in the way of material benefits. But, as I have 
already indicated, with the nobler alchemists this 
was not the case, and the desire for wealth, if present 
at all, was merely a secondary object. 

The idea expressed in Dalton's atomic hypo- 
thesis (1802), and universally held during the nine- 
teenth century, that the material world is made up 



132 BYGONE BELIEFS 

of a certain limited number of elements unalterable 
in quantity, subject in themselves to no change or 
development, and inconvertible one into another, is 
quite alien to the views of the alchemists. The 
alchemists conceived the universe to be a unity ; 
they believed that all material bodies had been de- 
veloped from one seed ; their elements are merely 
different forms of one matter and, therefore, con- 
vertible one into another. They were thorough- 
going evolutionists with regard to the things of the 
material world, and their theory concerning the 
evolution of the metals was, I believe, the direct out- 
come of a metallurgical application of the mystical 
doctrine of the soul's development and regeneration. 
The metals, they taught, all spring from the same 
seed in Nature's womb, but are not all equally 
matured and perfect ; for, as they say, although 
Nature always intends to produce only gold, various 
impurities impede the process. In the metals the 
alchemists saw symbols of man in the various stages 
of his spiritual development. Gold, the most 
beautiful as well as the most untarnishable metal, 
keeping its beauty permanently, unaffected by sul- 
phur, most acids, and fire — indeed, purified by such 
treatment, — gold, to the alchemist, was the symbol 
of regenerate man, and therefore he called it " a 
noble metal ". Silver was also termed " noble " ; 
but it was regarded as less mature than gold, for, 
although it is undoubtedly beautiful and withstands 
the action of fire, it is corroded by nitric acid and is 
blackened by sulphur ; it was, therefore, considered 
to be analogous to the regenerate man at a lower 
stage of his development. Possibly we shall not be 



QUEST OF PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 133 

far wrong in using Swedenborg's terms, " celestial " 
to describe the man of gold, " spiritual " to designate 
him of silver. Lead, on the other hand, the al- 
chemists regarded as a very immature and impure 
metal : heavy and dull, corroded by sulphur and 
nitric acid, and converted into a calx by the action 
of fire, — lead, to the alchemists, was a symbol of 
man in a sinful and unregenerate condition. 

The alchemists assumed the existence of three 
principles in the metals, their obvious reason for 
so doing being the mystical threefold division of 
man into body, soul {i.e. affections and will), and 
spirit {i.e. intelligence), though the principle corre- 
sponding to body was a comparatively late intro- 
duction in alchemical philosophy. This latter fact, 
however, is no argument against my thesis ; because, 
of course, I do not maintain that the alchemists 
started out with their chemical philosophy ready 
made, but gradually worked it out, by incorporating 
in it further doctrines drawn from mystical theology. 
The three principles just referred to were called 
" mercury," " sulphur," and " salt " ; and they 
must be distinguished from the common bodies so 
designated (though the alchemists themselves seem 
often guilty of confusing them). " Mercury " is 
the metallic principle par excellence^ conferring on 
metals their brightness and fusibility, and corre- 
sponding to the spirit or intelligence in man.^ 
" Sulphur," the principle of combustion and colour, 
is the analogue of the soul. Many alchemists postu- 
lated two sulphurs in the metals, an inward and an 

^ The identification of the god Mercury with Thoth, the 
Egyptian god of learning, is worth noticing in this connection. 



134 BYGONE BELIEFS 

outward.* The outward sulphur was thought to be 
the chief cause of metalHc impurity, and the reason 
why all (known) metals, save gold and silver, were 
acted on by fire. The inward sulphur, on the other 
hand, was regarded as essential to the development 
of the metals : pure mercury, we are told, matured 
by a pure inward sulphur yields pure gold. Here 
again it is evident that the alchemists borrowed 
their theories from mystical theology ; for, clearly, 
inward sulphur is nothing else than the equivalent 
to love of God ; outward sulphur to love of self. 
Intelligence (mercury) matured by love to God (in- 
ward sulphur) exactly expresses the spiritual state 
of the regenerate man according to mystical theology. 
There is no reason, other than their belief in analogy, 
why the alchemists should have held such views 
concerning the metals. *' Salt," the principle of 
solidity and resistance to fire, corresponding to the 
body in man, plays a comparatively unimportant 
part in alchemical theory, as does its prototype in 
mystical theology. 

Now, as I have pointed out already, the central 
theorem of mystical theology is, in Christian termin- 
ology, that of the regeneration of the soul by the 
Spirit of Christ. The corresponding process in 
alchemy is that of the transmutation of the " base " 
metals into silver and gold by the agency of the 
Philosopher's Stone. Merely to remove the evil 
sulphur of the "base" metals, thought the alchemists, 
though necessary, is not sufficient to transmute them 

^ Pseudo-GEBER, whose writings were highly esteemed, for 
instance. See R. Russel's translation of his works (1678), 
p. 160. 



QUEST OF PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 135 

into *' noble " metals ; a maturing process is essential, 
similar to that which they supposed was effected in 
Nature's womb. Mystical theology teaches that the 
powers and life of the soul are not inherent in it, 
but are given by the free grace of God. Neither, 
according to the alchemists, are the powers and life 
of nature in herself, but in that immanent spirit, 
the Soul of the World, that animates her. As 
writes the famous alchemist who adopted the pleasing 
pseudonym of *' Basil Valentine " (c. 1600), '' the 
power of growth ... is imparted not by the earth, 
but by the life-giving spirit that is in it. If the earth 
were deserted by this spirit, it would be dead, and 
no longer able to afford nourishment to anything. 
For its sulphur or richness would lack the quickening 
spirit without which there can be neither life nor 
growth." ^ To perfect the metals, therefore, the 
alchemists argued, from analogy with mystical 
theology, which teaches that men can be regenerated 
only by the power of Christ within the soul, that it 
is necessary to subject them to the action of this 
world-spirit, this one essence underlying all the 
varied powers of nature, this One Thing from 
which " all things were produced ... by adaption, 
and which is the cause of all perfection throughout 
the whole world." ^ "This," writes one alchemist, 
*' is the Spirit of Truth, which the world cannot 
comprehend without the interposition of the Holy 
Ghost, or without the instruction of those who know 

^ Basil Valentine : The Twelve Keys. (See TJie Hermetic 
Museum, vol. i. pp. 333 and 334.) 

2 From the " Smaragdine Table," attributed to Hermes 
Trismegistos {ie. Mercury or Thoth). 



136 BYGONE BELIEFS 

it. The same is of a mysterious nature, wondrous 
strength, boundless power. ... By Avicenna this 
Spirit is named the Soul of the World. For, as the 
Soul moves all the limbs of the Body, so also does 
this Spirit move all bodies. And as the Soul is in 
all the limbs of the Body, so also is this Spirit in all 
elementary created things. It is sought by many 
and found by few. It is beheld from afar and found 
near ; for it exists in every thing, in every place, and 
at all times. It has the powers of all creatures ; its 
action is found in all elements, and the qualities of 
all things are therein, even in the highest perfection 
... it heals all dead and living bodies without other 
medicine . . . converts all metallic bodies into gold, 
and there is nothing like unto it under Heaven." ^ 
It was this Spirit, concentrated in all its potency in 
a suitable material form, which the alchemists sought 
under the name of '* the Philosopher's Stone ". Now, 
mystical theology teaches that the Spirit of Christ, 
by which alone the soul of man can be tinctured 
and transmuted into the likeness of God, is Goodness 
itself ; consequently, the alchemists argued that 
the Philosopher's Stone must be, so to speak. Gold 
itself, or the very essence of Gold : it was to them, 
as Christ is of the soul's perfection, at once the 
pattern and the means of metallic perfection. " The 
Philosopher's Stone," declares " Eiren^us Phila- 
LETHES " {nat. c. 1623), *' is a certain heavenly, 

^ The Book of the Revelation of Hermes, interpreted by Theo- 
PHRASTUS Paracelsus, concerning the Supreme Secret of the 
World. (See Benedictus Figulus, A Golden and Blessed 
Casket of Nature's Marvels, trans, by A. E. Waite, 1893, 
pp. 36, 37, and 41.) 



QUEST OF PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 137 

spiritual, penetrative, and fixed substance, which 
brings all metals to the perfection of gold or silver 
(according to the quality of the Medicine), and that 
by natural methods, which yet in their effects tran- 
scend Nature. . . . Know, then, that it is called 
a stone, not because it is like a stone, but only be- 
cause, by virtue of its fixed nature, it resists the action 
of fire as successfully as any stone. In species it is 
gold, more pure than the purest ; it is fixed and in- 
combustible like a stone [i.e. it contains no outward 
sulphur, but only inward, fixed sulphur], but its 
appearance is that of a very fine powder, impalpable 
to the touch, sweet to the taste, fragrant to the smell, 
in potency a most penetrative spirit, apparently dry 
and yet unctuous, and easily capable of tingeing a 
plate of metal. ... If we say that its nature is 
spiritual, it would be no more than the truth ; if 
we described it as corporeal the expression would 
be equally correct ; for it is subtle, penetrative, glori- 
fied, spiritual gold. It is the noblest of all created 
things after the rational soul, and has virtue to 
repair all defects both in animal and metallic bodies, 
by restoring them to the most exact and perfect 
temper ; wherefore is it a spirit or ' quintessence.' " ^ 
In other accounts the Philosopher's Stone, or at 
least the materia prima of which it is compounded, 
is spoken of as a despised substance, reckoned to be 
of no value. Thus, according to one curious al- 
chemistic work, " This matter, so precious by the 
excellent Gifts, wherewith Nature has enriched it, 
is truly mean, with regard to the Substances from 

^ EiREN^us Philalethes : A Brief Guide to the Celestial 
Ruby. (See The Hermetic Museum, vol. ii. pp. 246 and 249.) 



138 BYGONE BELIEFS 

whence it derives its Original. Their price is not 
above the Abihty of the Poor. Ten Pence is more 
than sufficient to purchase the Matter of the Stone. 
. . . The matter therefore is mean, considering the 
Foundation of the Art because it costs very Httle ; 
it is no less mean, if one considers exteriourly that 
which gives it Perfection, since in that regard it 
costs nothing at all, in as much as all the World has 
it in its Power ... so that ... it is a constant 
Truth, that the Stone is a Thing mean in one Sense, 
but that in another it is most precious, and that there 
are none but Fools that despise it, by a just Judgment 
of God." 1 And Jacob Boehme (i 575-1 624) writes : 
" The philosopher's stone is a very dark, disesteemed 
stone, of a grey colour, but therein lieth the highest 
tincture." ^ In these passages there is probably 
some reference to the ubiquity of the Spirit of the 
World, already referred to in a former quotation. 
But this fact is not, in itself, sufficient to account for 
them. I suggest that their origin is to be found in 
the religious doctrine that God's Grace, the Spirit 
of Christ that is the means of the transmutation of 
man's soul into spiritual gold, is free to all ; that it 
is, at once, the meanest and the most precious thing 
in the whole Universe. Indeed, I think it quite 
probable that the alchemists who penned the above- 
quoted passages had in mind the words of Isaiah, 
" He was despised and we esteemed him not." And 

^ A Discourse between Eudoxus and Pyrophilus, upon the 
Ancient War of the Knights. See The Hermetical TriumpJi : or, 
the Victorious Philosophical Stone (1723), pp. loi and 102. 

2 Jacob Boehme : Epistles (trans, by J. E., 1649, reprinted 
1886), Ep. iv,, § III. 



QUEST OF PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 139 

if further evidence is required that the alchemists 
beUeved in a correspondence between Christ — 
" the Stone which the builders rejected " — and the 
Philosopher's Stone, reference may be made to the 
alchemical work called The Sophie Hydrolith : or 
Water Stone of the Wise, a tract included in The 
Hermetic Museum, in which this supposed corre- 
spondence is explicitly asserted and dealt with in 
some detail. 

Apart from the alchemists' belief in the analogy 
between natural and spiritual things, it is, I think, 
incredible that any such theories of the metals and 
the possibility of their transmutation or " regenera- 
tion " by such an extraordinary agent as the Philo- 
sopher's Stone would have occurred to the ancient 
investigators of Nature's secrets. When they had 
started to formulate these theories, facts ^ were dis- 

^ One of those facts, amongst many others, that appeared 
to confirm the alchemical doctrines, was the ease with which 
iron could apparently be transmuted into copper. It was 
early observed that iron vessels placed in contact with a solu- 
tion of blue vitriol became converted (at least, so far as their 
surfaces were concerned) into copper. This we now know to 
be due to the fact that the copper originally contained in the 
vitriol is thrown out of solution, whilst the iron takes its place. 
And we know, also, that no more copper can be obtained 
in this way from the blue vitriol than is actually used up in 
preparing it ; and, further, that all the iron which is apparently 
converted into copper can be got out of the residual solution 
by appropriate methods, if such be desired ; so that the facts 
really support Dalton's theory rather than the alchemical 
doctrmes. But to the alchemist it looked like a real transmuta- 
tion of iron into copper, confirmation of his fond belief that 
iron and other base metals could be transmuted into silver 
and gold by the aid of the Great Arcanum of Nature. 



140 BYGONE BELIEFS 

covered which appeared to support them ; but it is, 
I suggest, practically impossible to suppose that any 
or all of these facts would, in themselves, have been 
sufficient to give rise to such wonderfully fantastic 
theories as these : it is only from the standpoint of 
the theory that alchemy was a direct offspring of 
mysticism that its origin seems to be capable of 
explanation. 

In all the alchemical doctrines mystical connec- 
tions are evident, and mystical origins can generally 
be traced. I shall content myself here with giving 
a couple of further examples. Consider, in the 
first place, the alchemical doctrine of purification 
by putrefaction, that the metals must die before 
they can be resurrected and truly live, that through 
death alone are they purified — in the more prosaic 
language of modern chemistry, death becomes 
oxidation, and rebirth becomes reduction. In many 
alchemical books there are to be found pictorial 
symbols of the putrefaction and death of metals 
and their new birth in the state of silver or gold, or 
as the Stone itself, together with descriptions of these 
processes. The alchemists sought to kill or destroy 
the body or outward form of the metals, in the hope 
that they might get at and utilise the living essence 
they believed to be immanent within. As Para- 
celsus put it : " Nothing of true value is located in 
the body of a substance, but in the virtue . . . the 
less there is of body, the more in proportion is the 
virtue." It seems to me quite obvious that in such 
ideas as these we have the application to metallurgy 
of the mystic doctrine of self-renunciation — that the 
soul must die to self before it can live to God : that 



To face p. 140. 



PLATE 21. 




Fig. 41. 




Fig. 42. 

Symbolical Representations of the Alchemical Principle of Purification 
by Putrefaction, from " Basil Valentine's " Twelve Kevs. 



QUEST OF PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 141 

the body must be sacrificed to the spirit, and the 
individual will bowed down utterly to the One 
Divine Will, before it can become one therewith. 

In the second place, consider the directions as to 
the colours that must be obtained in the preparation 
of the Philosopher's Stone, if a successful issue to 
the Great Work is desired. Such directions are 
frequently given in considerable detail in alchemical 
works ; and, without asserting any exact uniformity, 
I think that I may state that practically all the al- 
chemists agree that three great colour-stages are 
necessary — (i.) an inky blackness, which is termed 
the *' Crow's Head " and is indicative of putrefac- 
tion ; (ii.) a white colour indicating that the Stone 
is now capable of converting " base " metals into 
silver ; this passes through orange into (iii.) a red 
colour, which shows that the Stone is now perfect, 
and will transmute *' base " metals into gold. Now, 
what was the reason for the belief in these three 
colour-stages, and for their occurrence in the above 
order ? I suggest that no alchemist actually ob- 
tained these colours in this order in his chemical 
experiments, and that we must look for a speculative 
origin for the belief in them. We have, I think, 
only to turn to religious mysticism for this origin. 
For the exponents of religious mysticism unani- 
mously agree to a threefold division of the life of the 
mystic. The first stage is called " the dark night of 
the soul," wherein it seems as if the soul were deserted 
by God, although He is very near. It is the time of 
trial, when self is sacrificed as a duty and not as a 
delight. Afterwards, however, comes the morning 
light of a new intelligence, which marks the com- 



142 BYGONE BELIEFS 

mencement of that stage of the soul's upward pro- 
gress that is called the " illuminative life ". All the 
mental powers are now concentrated on God, and 
the struggle is transferred from without to the inner 
man, good works being now done, as it were, spon- 
taneously. The disciple, in this stage, not only 
does unselfish deeds, but does them from unselfish 
motives, being guided by the light of Divine Truth. 
The third stage, which is the consummation of the 
process, is termed " the contemplative life ". It is 
barely describable. The disciple is wrapped about 
with the Divine Love, and is united thereby with 
his Divine Source. It is the life of love, as the illumi- 
native life is that of wisdom. I suggest that the al- 
chemists, believing in this threefold division of the 
regenerative process, argued that there must be three 
similar stages in the preparation of the Stone, which 
was the pattern of all metallic perfection ; and that 
they derived their beliefs concerning the colours, 
and other peculiarities of each stage in the supposed 
chemical process, from the characteristics of each 
stage in the psychological process according to 
mystical theology. 

Moreover, in the course of the latter process many 
flitting thoughts and affections arise and deeds are 
half -wittingly done which are not of the soul's true 
character ; and in entire agreement with this, we 
read of the alchemical process, in the highly esteemed 
" Canons " of D'Espagnet : " Besides these decre- 
tory signs [i.e. the black, white, orange, and red 
colours] which firmly inhere in the matter, and shew 
its essential mutations, almost infinite colours appear, 
and shew themselves in vapours, as the Rainbow in 



QUEST OF PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 143 

the clouds, which quickly pass away and are expelled 
by those that succeed, more affecting the air than 
the earth : the operator must have a gentle care of 
them, because they are not permanent, and proceed 
not from the intrinsic disposition of the matter, but 
from the fire painting and fashioning everything 
after its pleasure, or casually by heat in slight 
moisture." ^ That D'Espagnet is arguing, not so 
much from actual chemical experiments, as from 
analogy with psychological processes in man, is, I 
think, evident. 

As wtII as a metallic, the alchemists believed in a 
physiological, application of the fundamental doc- 
trines of mysticism : their physiology was analogi- 
cally connected with their metallurgy, the same prin- 
ciples holding good in each case. Paracelsus, as 
we have seen, taught that man is a microcosm, a 
world in miniature ; his spirit, the Divine Spark 
within, is from God ; his soul is from the Stars, 
extracted from the Spirit of the World ; and his 
body is from the earth, extracted from the elements 
of which all things material are made. This view 
of man was shared by many other alchemists. The 
Philosopher's Stone, therefore (or, rather, a solution 
of it in alcohol) was also regarded as the Elixir of 
Life ; which, thought the alchemists, would not 
endow man with physical immortality, as is some- 
times supposed, but restore him again to the flower 
of youth, " regenerating " him physiologically. Fail- 
ing this, of course, they regarded gold in a potable 

^ Jean D'Espagnet: Hermetic Arcanum, canon 65. (See 
Collectanea Hermetica, cd. by W. Wynn Westcott, vol. i., 1893, 
pp. 28 and 29.) 



144 BYGONE BELIEFS 

form as the next most powerful medicine — a belief 
which probably led to injurious effects in some cases. 

Such are the facts from which I think we are 
justified in concluding, as I have said, " that the al- 
chemists constructed their chemical theories for the 
main part by means of a priori reasoning, and that 
the premises from which they started were (i.) the 
truth of mystical theology, especially the doctrine 
of the soul's regeneration, and (ii.) the truth of 
mystical philosophy, which asserts that the objects 
of nature are symbols of spiritual verities."^ 

It seems to follow, ex hypothesi, that every al- 
chemical work ought to permit of two interpretations, 
one physical, the other transcendental. But I would 
not venture to assert this, because, as I think, many 
of the lesser alchemists knew little of the origin of 
their theories, nor realised their significance. They 
were concerned merely with these theories in their 
strictly metallurgical applications, and any tran- 
scendental meaning we can extract from their works 
was not intended by the writers themselves. How- 
ever, many alchemists, I conceive, especially the 
better sort, realised more or less clearly the dual 
nature of their subject, and their books are to some 
extent intended to permit of a double interpretation, 
although the emphasis is laid upon the physical and 
chemical application of mystical doctrine. And there 
are a few writers who adopted alchemical termin- 
ology on the principle that, if the language of theology 

1 In the following excursion we will wander again in the 
alchemical bypaths of thought, and certain objections to this 
view of the origin and nature of alchemy will be dealt with 
and, I hope, satisfactorily answered. 



QUEST OF PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 145 

is competent to describe chemical processes, then, 
conversely, the language of alchemy must be com- 
petent to describe psychological processes : this is 
certainly and entirely true of Jacob Boehme, and, 
to some extent also, I think, of Henry Khunrath 
( 1 560-1 605) and Thomas Vaughan (i 622-1 666). 

As may be easily understood, many of the al- 
chemists led most romantic lives, often running the 
risk of torture and death at the hands of avaricious 
princes who believed them to be in possession of 
the Philosopher's Stone, and adopted such pleasant 
methods of extorting (or, at least, of trjdng to extort) 
their secrets. A brief sketch, which I quote from 
my Alchemy : Ancient and Modern (1911), § 54, of 
the lives of Alexander Sethon and Michael 
Sendivogius, will serve as an example : — 

" The date and birthplace of Alexander Sethon, 
a Scottish alchemist, do not appear to have been 
recorded, but Michael Sendivogius was probably 
born in Moravia about 1566. Sethon, we are told, 
was in possession of the arch-secrets of Alchemy. 
He visited Holland in 1602, proceeded after a time 
to Italy, and passed through Basle to Germany ; 
meanwhile he is said to have performed many trans- 
mutations. Ultimately arriving at Dresden, how- 
ever, he fell into the clutches of the young Elector, 
Christian II., who, in order to extort his secret, cast 
him into prison and put him to the torture, but with- 
out avail. Now it so happened that Sendivogius, 
who was in quest of the Philosopher's Stone, was 
staying at Dresden, and hearing of Sethon's im- 
prisonment obtained permission to visit him. 

Sendivogius offered to effect Sethon's escape in 

10 



146 BYGONE BELIEFS 

return for assistance in his alchemistic pursuits, to 
which arrangement the Scottish alchemist wiUingly 
agreed. After some considerable outlay of money 
in bribery, Sendivogius's plan of escape was success- 
fully carried out, and Sethon found himself a free 
man ; but he refused to betray the high secrets of 
Hermetic philosophy to his rescuer. However, before 
his death, which occurred shortly afterwards, he pre- 
sented him with an ounce of the transmutative 
powder. Sendivogius soon used up this powder, 
we are told, in effecting transmutations and cures, 
and, being fond of expensive living, he married 
Sethon 's widow, in the hope that she was in the pos- 
session of the transmutative secret. In this, how- 
ever, he was disappointed ; she knew nothing of the 
matter, but she had the manuscript of an alchemistic 
work written by her late husband. Shortly after- 
wards Sendivogius printed at Prague a book entitled 
The New Chemical Light under the name of ' Cosmo- 
polita,' which is said to have been this work of 
Sethon 's, but which Sendivogius claimed for his 
own by the insertion of his name on the title page, 
in the form of an anagram. The tract On Sulphur 
which was printed at the end of the book in later 
editions, however, is said to have been the genuine 
work of the Moravian. Whilst his powder lasted, 
Sendivogius travelled about, performing, we are told, 
many transmutations. He was twice imprisoned in 
order to extort the secrets of alchemy from him, on 
one occasion escaping, and on the other occasion 
obtaining his release from the Emperor Rudolph. 
Afterwards, he appears to have degenerated into an 
impostor, but this is said to have been a finesse to 



QUEST OF PHILOSOPHER'S STONE 147 

hide his true character as an alchemistic adept. He 
died in 1646." 

However, all the alchemists were not of the 
apparent character of Sendivogius — many of them 
leading holy and serviceable lives. The alchemist- 
physician J. B. Van Helmont (i 577-1 644), who 
was a man of extraordinary benevolence, going about 
treating the sick poor freely, may be particularly 
mentioned. He, too, claimed to have performed 
the transmutation of '' base " metal into gold, as 
did also Helvetius (whom we have already met), 
physician to the Prince of Orange, with a wonderful 
preparation given to him by a stranger. The testi- 
mony of these two latter men is very difficult either 
to explain or to explain away, but I cannot deal with 
this question here, but must refer the reader to a 
paper on the subject by Mr Gaston De Mengel, 
and the discussion thereon, pubhshed in vol. i. of 
The Journal of the Alchemical Society. 

In conclusion, I will venture one remark dealing 
with a matter outside of the present inquiry. Al- 
chemy ended its days in failure and fraud ; charlatans 
and fools were attracted to it by purely mercenary 
objects, who knew nothing of the high aims of the 
genuine alchemists, and scientific men looked else- 
where for solutions of Nature's problems. Why did 
alchemy fail } Was it because its fundamental 
theorems were erroneous ? I think not. I consider 
the failure of the alchemical theory of Nature to be 
due rather to the misapplication of these fundamental 
concepts, to the erroneous use of a priori methods 
of reasoning, to a lack of a sufficiently wide knowledge 
of natural phenomena to which to apply these con- 



148 BYGONE BELIEFS 

cepts, to a lack of adequate apparatus with which to 
investigate such phenomena experimentally, and to 
a lack of mathematical organons of thought with 
which to interpret such experimental results had 
they been obtained. As for the basic concepts of 
alchemy themselves, such as the fundamental unity 
of the Cosmos and the evolution of the elements, in 
a word, the applicability of the principles of mysti- 
cism to natural phenomena : these seem to me to 
contain a very valuable element of truth — a state- 
ment which, I think, modern scientific research 
justifies me in making, — though the alchemists dis- 
torted this truth and expressed it in a fantastic form. 
I think, indeed, that in the modern theories of energy 
and the all-pervading ether, the etheric and electrical 
origin and nature of matter and the evolution of the 
elements, we may witness the triumphs of mysticism 
as applied to the interpretation of Nature. Whether 
or not we shall ever transmute lead into gold, I 
believe there is a very true sense in which we may 
say that alchemy, purified by its death, has been 
proved true, whilst the materialistic view of Nature 
has beenJproved£false. 



X 

THE PHALLIC ELEMENT IN 
ALCHEMICAL DOCTRINE 

The problem of alchemy presents many aspects to 
our view, but, to my mind, the most fundamental of 
these is psychological, or, perhaps I should say, epis- 
temological. It has been said that the proper study 
of mankind is man ; and to study man we must 
study the beliefs of man. Now so long as we neglect 
great tracts of such beliefs, because they have been, 
or appear to have been, superseded, so long will our 
study be incomplete and ineffectual. And this, let 
me add, is no mere excuse for the study of alchemy, 
no mere afterthought put forward in justification of 
a predilection, but a plain statement of fact that 
renders this study an imperative need. There are 
other questions of interest — of very great interest — 
concerning alchemy : questions, for instance, as to 
the scope and validity of its doctrines ; but we ought 
not to allow their fascination and promise to distract 
our attention from the fundamental problem, whose 
solution is essential to their elucidation. 

In the preceding essay on " The Quest of the 
Philosopher's Stone," which was written from the 
standpoint I have sketched in the foregoing words, 

149 



150 BYGONE BELIEFS 

my thesis was " that the alchemists constructed their 
chemical theories for the main part by means of 
a priori reasoning, and that the premises from which 
they started were (i.) the truth of mystical theology, 
especially the doctrine of the soul's regeneration, 
and (ii.)the truth of mystical philosophy, which asserts 
that the objects of nature are symbols of spiritual 
verities." Now, I wish to treat my present thesis, 
which is concerned with a further source from which 
the alchemists derived certain of their views and 
modes of expression by means of a priori reasoning, 
in connection with, and, in a sense, as complementary 
to, my former thesis. I propose in the first place, 
therefore, briefly to deal with certain possible objec- 
tions to this view of alchemy. 

It has, for instance, been maintained ^ that the 
assimilation of alchemical doctrines concerning the 
metals to those of mysticism concerning the soul 
was an event late in the history of alchemy, and was 
undertaken in the interests of the latter doctrines. 
Now we know that certain mystics of the sixteenth 
and seventeenth centuries did borrow from the al- 
chemists much of their terminology with which to 
discourse of spiritual mysteries — Jacob Boehme, 
Henry Khunrath, and perhaps Thomas Vaughan, 
may be mentioned as the most prominent cases in 
point. But how was this possible if it were not, 
as I have suggested, the repayment, in a sense, of 
a sort of philological debt ? Transmutation was an 
admirable vehicle of language for describing the 

1 See, for example, Mr A. E. WArrE's paper, " The Canon 
of Criticism in respect of Alchemical Literature," The Journal 
vj the Alchemical Society, vol. i. (1913). pp. 17-30. 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 151 

soul's regeneration, just because the doctrine of 
transmutation was the result of an attempt to apply 
the doctrine of regeneration in the sphere of metal- 
lurgy ; and similar remarks hold of the other promi- 
nent doctrines of alchemy. 

The wonderful fabric of alchemical doctrine was 
not woven in a day, and as it passed from loom to 
loom, from Byzantium to Syria, from Syria to Arabia, 
from Arabia to Spain and Latin Europe, so its 
pattern changed ; but it was always woven a priori^ 
in the belief that that which is below is as that which 
is above. In its final form, I think, it is distinctly 
Christian. 

In the Turha Fhilosophorum, the oldest known 
work of Latin alchemy — a work which, claiming to 
be of Greek origin, whilst not that, is certainly Greek 
in spirit, — we frequently come across statements of 
a decidedly mystical character. " The regimen," 
we read, " is greater than is perceived by reason, 
except through divine inspiration." ^ Copper, it is 
insisted upon again and again, has a soul as well as a 
body ; and the Art, we are told, is to be defined as 
" the liquefaction of the body and the separation of 
the soul from the body, seeing that copper, like a 
man, has a soul and a body." ^ Moreover, other 
doctrines are here propounded which, although not 
so obviously of a mystical character, have been traced 
to mystical sources in the preceding excursion. 
There is, for instance, the doctrine of purification 
by means of putrefaction, this process being likened 

1 The Turha Philosophormn, or Assembly of the Sages (trans. 
by A. E. Waite, 1896), p. 128. 
- Ibid., p. 193, cf. pp. 102 and 152. 



152 BYGONE BELIEFS 

to that of the resurrection of man. " These things 
being done," we read, " God will restore unto it [the 
matter operated on] both the soul and the spirit 
thereof, and the weakness being taken away, that 
matter will be made strong, and after corruption 
will be improved, even as a man becomes stronger 
after resurrection and younger than he was in this 
world." 1 The three stages in the alchemical work — 
black, white, and red — corresponding to, and, as I 
maintain, based on the three stages in the life of the 
mystic, are also more than once mentioned. *' Cook 
them [the king and his wife], therefore, until they 
become black, then white, afterwards red, and finally 
until a tingeing venom is produced." ^ 

In view of these quotations, the alliance (shall I 
say ?) between alchemy and mysticism cannot be 
asserted to be of late origin. And we shall find 
similar statements if we go further back in time. 
To give but one example : *' Among the earliest 
authorities," writes Mr Waite, " the Book of Crates 
says that copper, like man, has a spirit, soul, and 
body," the term " copper " being symbolical and 
applying to a stage in the alchemical work. But 
nowhere in the Tiirba do we meet with the concept 
of the Philosopher's Stone as the medicine of the 
metals, a concept characteristic of Latin alchemy, 
and, to quote Mr Waite again, " it does not appear 
that the conception of the Philosopher's Stone as a 
medicine of metals and of men was familiar to Greek 
alchemy." ^ 

^ The Turba Philosophorum , or Assembly of the Sages (trans, 
by A. E. Waite), p. loi, cf. pp. 27 and 197. 
2 Ibid., p. 98, cf. p. 29. 3 Ji){^_^ p_ yi^ 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 153 

All this seems to me very strongly to support my 
view of the origin of alchemy, which requires a 
specifically Christian mysticism only for this specific 
concept of the Philosopher's Stone in its fully- 
fledged form. At any rate, the development of al- 
chemical doctrine can be seen to have proceeded 
concomitantly with the development of mystical 
philosophy and theology. Those who are not pre- 
pared here to see eflPect and cause may be asked not 
only to formulate some other hypothesis in explana- 
tion of the origin of alchemy, but also to explain 
this fact of concomitant development. 

From the standpoint of the transcendental theory 
of alchemy it has been urged " that the language of 
mystical theology seemed to be hardly so suitable to 
the exposition [as I maintain] or concealment of 
chemical theories, as the language of a definite and 
generally credited branch of science was suited to the 
expression of a veiled and symbolical process such 
as the regeneration of man." ^ But such a statement 
is only possible with respect to the latest days of 
alchemy, when there was a science of chemistry, 
definite and generally credited. The science of 
chemistry, it must be remembered, had no growth 
separate from alchemy, but evolved therefrom. Of 
the days before this evolution had been accomplished, 
it would be in closer accord with the facts to say that 
theology, including the doctrine of man's regenera- 
tion, was in the position of " a definite and generally 
credited branch of science," whereas chemical pheno- 
mena were veiled in deepest mystery and tinged with 

1 Philip S. Wellby, M.A., in The Journal of the Alchemical 
Society, vol, ii. (1914), p. 104. 



154 BYGONE BELIEFS 

the dangers appertaining to magic. As concerns the 
origin of alchemy, therefore, the argument as to 
suitabiUty of language appears to support my own 
theory ; it being open to assume that after formula- 
tion — that is, in alchemy 's latter days — chemical 
nomenclature and theories were employed by certain 
writers to veil heterodox religious doctrine. 

Another recent writer on the subject, my friend 
the late Mr Abdul- Ali, has remarked that " he 
thought that, in the mind of the alchemist at least, 
there was something more than analogy between 
metallic and psychic transformations, and that the 
whole subject might well be assigned to the doctrinal 
category of ineffable and transcendent Oneness. 
This Oneness comprehended all — soul and body, 
spirit and matter, mystic visions and waking life — 
and the sharp metaphysical distinction between the 
mental and the non-mental realms, so prominent 
during the history of philosophy, was not regarded 
by these early investigators in the sphere of nature. 
There was the sentiment, perhaps only dimly ex- 
perienced, that not only the law, but the substance 
of the Universe, was one ; that mind was everywhere 
in contact with its own kindred ; and that metallic 
transmutation would, somehow, so to speak, signalise 
and seal a hidden transmutation of the soul." ^ 

I am to a large extent in agreement with this 
view. Mr Abdul- Ali quarrels with the term 
" analogy," and, if it is held to imply any merely 
superficial resemblance, it certainly is not adequate 
to my own needs, though I know not what other 

^ SijiL Abdul- Ali, in The Journal of the Alchemical Society, 
vol. ii. (1914), p. 102. 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 155 

word to use. Swedenborg's term " correspondence " 
would be better for my purpose, as standing for an 
essential connection between spirit and matter, arising 
out of the causal relationship of the one to the other. 
But if SwEDENBORG believed that matter and spirit 
were most intimately related, he nevertheless had 
a very precise idea of their distinctness, which he 
formulated in his Doctrine of Degrees — a very exact 
metaphysical doctrine indeed. The alchemists, on 
the other hand, had no such clear ideas on the subject. 
It would be even more absurd to attribute to them a 
Cartesian dualism. To their ways of thinking, it 
was by no means impossible to grasp the spiritual 
essences of things by what we should now call 
chemical manipulations. For them a gas was still a 
ghost and air a spirit. One could quote pages in 
support of this, but I will content myself with a few 
words from the Tiirha — the antiquity of the book 
makes it of value, and anyway it is near at hand. 
" Permanent water," whatever that may be, being 
pounded with the body, we are told, " by the will 
of God it turns that body into spirit." And in 
another place we read that " the Philosophers have 
said : Except ye turn bodies into not-bodies, and 
incorporeal things into bodies, ye have not yet dis- 
covered the rule of operation." ^ No one who 
could write like this, and believe it, could hold 
matter and spirit as altogether distinct. But it is 
equally obvious that the injunction to convert body 
into spirit is meaningless if spirit and body are held 
to be identical. I have been criticised for crediting 
the alchemists " with the philosophic acumen of 
^ Op. cit., pp. 65 and no, cf. p. 154. 



156 BYGONE BELIEFS 

Hegel," 1 but that is just what I think one ought to 
avoid doing. At the same time, however, it is ex- 
tremely difficult to give a precise account of views 
which are very far from being precise themselves. 
But I think it may be said, without fear of error, 
that the alchemist who could say, " As above, so 
below," ipso facto recognised both a very close con- 
nection between spirit and matter, and a distinction 
between them. Moreover, the division thus im- 
plied corresponded, on the whole, to that between 
the realms of the known (or what was thought to be 
known) and the unknown. The Church, whether 
Christian or pre-Christian, had very precise (com- 
paratively speaking) doctrine concerning the soul's 
origin, duties, and destiny, backed up by tremendous 
authority, and speculative philosophy had advanced 
very far by the time Plato began to concern himself 
with its problems. Nature, on the other hand, was 
a mysterious world of magical happenings, and there 
was nothing deserving of the name of natural science 
until alchemy was becoming decadent. It is not 
surprising, therefore, that the alchemists — these men 
who wished to probe Nature's hidden mysteries — 
should reason from above to below ; indeed, unless 
they had started de novo — as babes knowing nothing, 
— there was no other course open to them. And that 
they did adopt the obvious course is all that my 
former thesis amounts to. In passing, it is interest- 
ing to note that a sixteenth-century alchemist, who 
had exceptional opportunities and leisure to study 
the works of the old masters of alchemy, seems to 

^ Vide a rather frivolous review of ray Alchemy: Ancient 
and Modern in I'he Outlook for 14th January igii. 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 157 

have come to a similar conclusion as to the nature 
of their reasoning. He writes : " The Sages . . . 
after having conceived in their minds a Divine idea 
of the relations of the whole universe . . . selected 
from among the rest a certain substance, from which 
they sought to elicit the elements, to separate and 
purify them, and then again put them together in a 
manner suggested by a keen and profound observa- 
tion of Nature." ^ 

In describing the realm of spirit as ex hypothesi 
known, that of Nature unknown, to the alchemists, 
I have made one important omission, and that, if I 
may use the name of a science to denominate a com- 
plex of crude facts, is the realm of physiology, which, 
falling within that of Nature, must yet be classed as 
ex hypothesi known. But to elucidate this point 
some further considerations are necessary touching 
the general nature of knowledge. Now, facts may 
be roughly classed, according to their obviousness 
and frequency of occurrence, into four groups. There 
are, first of all, f-^ .'s which are so obvious, to put it 
paradoxically, that they escape notice ; and these 
facts are the commonest and most frequent in their 
occurrence. I think it is Mr Chesterton who has 
said that, looking at a forest one cannot see the trees 
because of the forest ; and, in The Innocence of 
Father Brown, he has a good story (" The Invisible 
Man ") illustrating the point, in which a man 
renders himself invisible by dressing up in a post- 
man's uniform. At any rate, we know that when a 

1 Edward Kelly : The Humid Path. (See The Alchemical 
Writings of Edward Kelly, edited by A. E. Waite, 1893, 
pp. 59-60.) 



158 BYGONE BELIEFS 

phenomenon becomes persistent it tends to escape 
observation ; thus, continuous motion can only be 
appreciated with reference to a stationary body, and 
a noise, continually repeated, becomes at last in- 
audible. The tendency of often-repeated actions 
to become habitual, and at last automatic, that is to 
say, carried out without consciousness, is a closely 
related phenomenon. We can understand, there- 
fore, why a knowledge of the existence of the atmo- 
sphere, as distinct from the wind, came late in the 
history of primitive man, as, also, many other curious 
gaps in his knowledge. In the second group we may 
put those facts which are common, that is, of fre- 
quent occurrence, and are classed as obvious. Such 
facts are accepted at face-value by the primitive 
mind, and are used as the basis of explanation of 
facts in the two remaining groups, namely, those 
facts which, though common, are apt to escape the 
attention owing to their inconspicuousness, and those 
which are of infrequent occurrence. When the mind 
takes the trouble to observe a fact of the third group, 
or is confronted by one of the fourth, it feels a sense 
of surprise. Such facts wear an air of strangeness, 
and the mind can only rest satisfied when it has shown 
them to itself as in some way cases of the second 
group of facts, or, at least, brought them into rela- 
tion therewith. That is what the mind — at least 
the primitive mind — means by " explanation ". "It 
is obvious," we say, commencing an argument, 
thereby proclaiming our intention to bring that 
which is at first in the category of the not-obvious, 
into the category of the obvious. It remains for a 
more sceptical type of mind — a later product of 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 159 

human evolution — to question obvious facts, to ex- 
plain them, either, as in science, by establishing 
deeper and more far-reaching correlations between 
phenomena, or in philosophy, by seeking for the 
source and purpose of such facts, or, better still, by 
both methods. 

Of the second class of facts — those common and 
obvious facts which the primitive mind accepts at 
face-value and uses as the basis of its explanations 
of such things as seem to it to stand in need of ex- 
planation — one could hardly find a better instance 
than sex. The universality of sex, and the inter- 
mittent character of its phenomena, are both re- 
sponsible for this. Indeed, the attitude of mind I 
have referred to is not restricted to primitive man ; 
how many people to-day, for instance, just accept 
sex as a fact, pleasant or unpleasant according to 
their predilections, never querying, or feeling the 
need to query, its why and wherefore ? It is by no 
means surprising, that when man first felt the need 
of satisfying himself as to the origin of the universe, 
he should have done so by a theory founded on what 
he knew of his own generation. Indeed, as I queried 
on a former occasion, what other source of explana- 
tion was open to him ? Of what other form of origin 
was he aware ? Seeing Nature springing to life at 
the kiss of the sun, what more natural than that she 
should be regarded as the divine Mother, who bears 
fruits because impregnated by the Sun-God } It is 
not difficult to understand, therefore, why primitive 
man paid divine honours to the organs of sex in man 
and woman, or to such things as he considered 
symbolical of them — that is to say, to understand 



i6o BYGONE BELIEFS 

the extensiveness of those reHgions which are grouped 
under the term " phalHcism ". Nor, to my mind, is 
the symbol of sex a wholly inadequate one under 
which to conceive of the origin of things. And, as 
I have said before, that phallicism usually appears 
to have degenerated into immorality of a very pro- 
nounced type is to be deplored, but an immoral view 
of human relations is by no means a necessary corol- 
lary to a sexual theory of the universe.^ 

^ " The reverence as well as the worship paid to the phallus, 
in early and primitive days, had nothing in it which partook 
of indecency ; all ideas connected with it were of a reverential 
and religious kind. . . . 

" The indecent ideas attached to the representation of the 
phallus were, though it seems a paradox to say so, the results 
of a more advanced civilization verging towards its decline, 
as we have evidence at Rome and Pompeii. . . . 

" To the primitive man [the reproductive force which per- 
vades all nature] was the most mysterious of all manifesta- 
tions. The visible physical powers of nature — the sun, the sky, 
the storm — naturally claimed his reverence, but to him the 
generative power was the most mysterious of all powers. In 
the vegetable world, the live seed placed in the ground, and 
hence germinating, sprouting up, and becoming a beautiful 
and umbrageous tree, was a mystery. In the animal world, 
as the cause of all life, by which all beings came into existence, 
this power was a mystery. In the view of primitive man 
generation was the action of the Deity itself. It was the 
mode in which He brought all things into existence, the sun, 
the moon, the stars, the world, man were generated by Him. 
To the productive power man was deeply indebted, for to it 
he owed the harvests and the flocks which supported his life ; 
hence it naturally became an object of reverence and worship. 

" Primitive man wants some object to worship, for an 
abstract idea is beyond his comprehension, hence a visible 
representation of the generative Deity was made, with the 
organs contributing to generation most prominent, and hence 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY i6i 

The Aruntas of Australia, I believe, when dis- 
covered by Europeans, had not yet observed the 
connection between sexual intercourse and birth. 
They believed that conception was occasioned by 
the woman passing near a chiiringa — a peculiarly 
shaped piece of wood or stone, in which a spirit- 
child was concealed, which entered into her. But 
archaeological research having established the fact 
that phallicism has, at one time or another, been 
common to nearly all races, it seems probable that 
the Arunta tribe represents a deviation from the 
normal line of mental evolution. At any rate, an 
isolated phenomenon, such as this, cannot be held to 
controvert the view that regards phallicism as in this 
normal line. Nor was the attitude of mind that not 
only accepts sex at face-value as an obvious fact, 
but uses the concept of it to explain other facts, a 
merely transitory one. We may, indeed, not diffi- 
cultly trace it throughout the history of alchemy, 
giving rise to what I may term " The Phallic Element 
in Alchemical Doctrine ". 

In aiming to establish this, I may be thought to 
be endeavouring to establish a counter-thesis to that 
of the preceding essay on alchemy, but, in virtue of 
the alchemists' belief in the mystical unity of all 
things, in the analogical or correspondential relation- 
ship of all parts of the universe to each other, the 
mystical and the phallic views of the origin of alchemy 
are complementary, not antagonistic. Indeed, the 
assumption that the metals are the symbols of man 

the organ itself became a symbol of the power." — H. M. 
Westropp : Primitive Symbolism as Illustrated in Phallic 
Worship, or the Reproductive Principle (1885), pp. 47, 48, and 57. 

II 



1 62 BYGONE BELIEFS 

almost necessitates the working out of physiological 
as well as mystical analogies, and these two series of 
analogies are themselves connected, because the prin- 
ciple " As above, so below " was held to be true of 
man himself. We might, therefore, expect to find 
a more or less complete harmony between the two 
series of symbols, though, as a matter of fact, con- 
tradictions will be encountered when we come to 
consider points of detail. The undoubtable antiquity 
of the phallic element in alchemical doctrine pre- 
cludes the idea that this element was an adventitious 
one, that it was in any sense an afterthought ; not- 
withstanding, however, the evidence, as will, I hope, 
become apparent as we proceed, indicates that 
mystical ideas played a much more fundamental part 
in the genesis of alchemical doctrine than purely 
phallic ones — mystical interpretations fit alchemical 
processes and theories far better than do sexual in- 
terpretations ; in fact, sex has to be interpreted some- 
what mystically in order to work out ihe analogies 
fully and satisfactorily. 

As concerns Greek alchemy, I shall content myself 
with a passage from a work On the Sacred Art, 
attributed to Olympiodorus (sixth century a.d.), 
followed by some quotations from and references to 
the Turba. In the former work it is stated on the 
authority of Horus that " The proper end of the 
whole art is to obtain the semen of the male secretly, 
seeing that all things are male and female. Hence 
[we read further] Horus says in a certain place : 
Join the male and the female, and you will find 
that which is sought ; as a fact, without this 
process of re-union, nothing can succeed, for Nature 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 163 

charms Nature," etc. The Turba insistently com- 
mands those who would succeed in the Art, to con- 
join the male with the female,^ and, in one place, 
the male is said to be lead and the female orpiment.- 
We also find the alchemical work symbolised by the 
growth of the embryo in the womb. " Know," we 
are told, *' . . . that out of the elect things nothing 
becomes useful without conjunction and regimen, 
because sperma is generated out of blood and desire. 
For the man mingling with the woman, the sperm 
is nourished by the humour of the womb, and by 
the moistening blood, and by heat, and when forty 
nights have elapsed the sperm is formed. . . . God 
has constituted that heat and blood for the nourish- 
ment of the sperm until the foetus is brought forth. 
So long as it is little, it is nourished with milk, and 
in proportion as the vital heat is maintained, the 
bones are strengthened. Thus it behoves you also 
to act in this Art."^ 

The use of the mystical symbols of death (putre- 
faction) and resurrection or rebirth to represent 
the consummation of the alchemical work, and that 
of the phallic symbols of the conjunction of the sexes 
and the development of the foetus, both of which we 
have found in the Turba ^ are current throughout the 
course of Latin alchemy. In The Chymical Marriage 
of Christian Rosencreuts, that extraordinary document 
of what is called " Rosicrucianism " — a symbolic 
romance of considerable ability, whoever its author 

^ Vide pp. 60, 92, 96, 97, 134, 135 and elsewhere in Mr 
Waite's translation. 

2 Ibid., p. 57. 

3 Ibid., pp. 179-181 (second recension) ; cf. pp. 103-104. 



1 64 BYGONE BELIEFS 

was,^ — an attempt is made to weld the two sets of 
symbols — the one of marriage, the other of death and 
resurrection unto glory — into one allegorical narrative ; 
and it is to this fusion of seemingly disparate concepts 
that much of its fantasticality is due. Yet the con- 
cepts are not really disparate ; for not only is the 
second birth like unto the first, and not only is the 
resurrection unto glory described as the Bridal Feast 
of the Lamb, but marriage is, in a manner, a form of 
death and rebirth. To justify this in a crude sense, I 
might say that, from the male standpoint at least, it 
is a giving of the life-substance to the beloved that life 
may be born anew and increase. But in a deeper 
sense it is, or rather should be, as an ideal, a mutual 
sacrifice of self for each other's good — a death of the 
self that it may arise with an enriched personality. 

It is when we come to an examination of the ideas 
at the root of, and associated with, the alchemical 
concept of " principles," that we find some difficulty 
in harmonising the tw^o series of symbols — the 
mystical and the phallic. In one place in the Turha 
we are directed " to take quicksilver, in which is the 
male potency or strength " ; - and this concept of 
mercury as male is quite in accord with the mystical 
origin I have assigned in the preceding excursion 
to the doctrine of the alchemical principles. I have 
shown, I think, that salt, sulphur, and mercury are 
the analogues ex hypothesi of the body, soul (affection 
and volition), and spirit (intelhgence or understand- 

^ See Mr Waite's The Real History of the Rosicrncians (1887) 
for translation and discussion as to origin and significance. 
The work was first published (in German) at Strassburg in 
1616. 2 Mr Waite's translation, p. 79, 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 165 

ing) in man ; and the affections are invariably re- 
garded as especially feminine, the understanding as 
especially masculine. But it seems that the more 
common opinion, amongst Latin alchemists at any 
rate, was that sulphur was male and mercury female. 
Writes Bernard of Trevisan : " For the Matter 
suffereth, and the Form acteth assimulating the 
Matter to itself, and according to this manner the 
Matter naturally thirsteth after a Form, as a Woman 
desireth an Husband, and a Vile thing a precious one, 
and an impure a pure one, so also Argent-vive coveteth 
a Sulphur, as that which should make perfect which 
is imperfect : So also a Body freely desireth a Spirit, 
whereby it may at length arrive at its perfection." ^ 
At the same time, however, Mercury was regarded as 
containing in itself both male and female potencies 
— it was the product of male and female, and, thus, 
the seed of all the metals. " Nothing in the World 
can be generated," to repeat a quotation from 
Bernard, " without these two Substances, to wit a 
Male and Female : From whence it appeareth, that 
although these two substances are not of one and 
the same species, yet one Stone doth thence arise, 
and although they appear and are said to be two 
Substances, yet in truth it is but one, to wit, Argent- 
vive. But of this Argent-vive a certain part is fixed 
and digested, Masculine, hot, dry and secretly in- 
forming. But the other, which is the Female, is 
volatile, crude, cold, and moyst." ^ Edward Kelly 

^ Bernard, Earl of Trevisan : A Treatise of the Philo- 
sopher's Stone, 1683. (See Collectanea Chymica : A Collection 
of Ten Several Treatises in Chymistry, 1684, p. 92.) 

2 Ibid., p. 91. 



i66 BYGONE BELIEFS 

( 1 555-1 595), who is valuable because he summarises 
authoritative opinion, says somewhat the same thing, 
though in clearer words : " The active elements . . . 
these are water and fire . . . may be called male, 
while the passive elements . . . earth and air . . . 
represent the female principle. . . . Only two 
elements, water and earth, are visible, and earth is 
called the hiding-place of fire, water the abode of 
air. In these two elements we have the broad law 
of limitation which divides the male from the female. 
. . . The first matter of minerals is a kind of 
viscous water, mingled with pure and impure earth. 
... Of this viscous water and fusible earth, or sul- 
phur, is composed that which is called quicksilver, 
the first matter of the metals. Metals are nothing 
but Mercury digested by different degrees of heat." ^ 
There is one difference, however, between these 
two writers, inasmuch as Bernard says that " the 
Male and Female abide together in closed Natures ; 
the Female truly as it were Earth and Water, the Male 
as Air and Fire." Mercury for him arises from the 
two former elements, sulphur from the two latter.^ 
And the difference is important as showing beyond 
question the a priori nature of alchemical reasoning. 
The idea at the back of the alchemists' minds was 
undoubtedly that of the ardour of the male in the 
act of coition and the alleged, or perhaps I should 

^ Edward Kelly : The Stone of the Philosophers. (See The 
Alchemical Writings o/Edward Kelly, edited by A. E. Waite, 
1893, pp. 9 and II to 13.) 

2 The Answer of Bernardus Trevisanus, to the Epistle of 
Thomas of Bononia, Physician to K. Charles the 8th. (See 
John Frederick Houpreght: Aurifontina Chyrnica, 1680, 
p. 208.) 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 167 

say apparent, passivity of the female. Consequently, 
sulphur, the fiery principle of combustion, and such 
elements as were reckoned to be active, were denomi- 
nated " male," whilst mercury, the principle acted 
on by sulphur, and such elements as were reckoned 
to be passive, were denominated " female ". As to 
the question of origin, I do not think that the palm 
can be denied to the mystical as distinguished from 
the phallic theory. And in its final form the doctrine 
of principles is incapable of a sexual interpretation. 
Mystically understood, man is capable of analysis 
into two principles — since '* body " may be neglected 
as unimportant (a false view, I think, by the way) 
or " soul " and " spirit " may be united under one 
head — or into three ; whereas the postulation of 
three principles on a sexual basis is impossible. 
Joannes Isaacus Hollandus (fifteenth century) is 
the earliest author in whose works I have observed 
explicit mention of three principles, though he refers 
to them in a manner seeming to indicate that the 
doctrine was no new one in his day. I have only read 
one little tract of his ; there is nothing sexual in it, 
and the author's mental character may be judged from 
his remarks concerning " the three flying spirits " — 
taste, smell, and colour. These, he writes, " are the 
life, soule, and quintessence of every thing, neither 
can these three spirits be one without the other, as 
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one, yet 
three Persons, and one is not without the other." ^ 

^ One Hundred and Fourteen Experiments and Cures of the 
Famous Physitian Theophrastus Paracelsus. Whereunto is 
added . . . certain Secrets of Isaac Hollandus, concerning the 
Vegetall and Animall Work (1652), pp. 29 and 30. 



1 68 BYGONE BELIEFS 

When the alchemists described an element or 
principle as male or female, they meant what they 
said, as I have already intimated, to the extent, at 
least, of firmly believing that seed was produced by 
the two metallic sexes. By their union metals were 
thought to be produced in the womb of the earth ; 
and mines were shut in order that by the birth and 
growth of new metal the impoverished veins might 
be replenished. In this way, too, was the magnum 
opus, the generation of the Philosopher's Stone — in 
species gold, but purer than the purest — to be accom- 
plished. To conjoin that which Nature supplied, 
to foster the growth and development of that which 
was thereby produced ; such was the task of the 
alchemist. " For there are Vegetables," says 
Bernard of Trevisan in his Answer to Thomas of 
Bononia, " but Sensitives more especially, which for 
the most part beget their like, by the Seeds of the 
Male and Female for the most part concurring and 
conmixt by copulation ; which work of Nature the 
Philosophick Art imitates in the generation of 
gold." 1 

Mercury, as I have said, was commonly regarded 
as the seed of the metals, or as especially the female 
seed, there being two seeds, one the male, according 
to Bernard, " more ripe, perfect and active," the 
other the female. " more immature and in a sort 
passive.^ "... our Philosophick Art," he says in 
another place, following a description of the genera- 
tion of man, "... is like this procreation of Man ; 
for as in Mercury (of which Gold is by Nature 
generated in Mineral Vessels) a natural conjunction 

^ Op. ciL, p. 2i6. '^ Ibid., p. 217 ; cf. p. 236. 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 169 

is made of both the Seeds, Male and Female, so by 
our artifice, an artificial and like conjunction is made 
of Agents and Patients." ^ "All teaching," says 
Kelly, " that changes Mercury is false and vain, 
for this is the original sperm of metals, and its mois- 
ture must not be dried up, for otherwise it will not 
dissolve,"'- and quotes Arnold {ob. c. 1310) to a 
similar effect.^ One wonders how far the fact that 
human and animal seed is fluid influenced the 
alchemists in their choice of mercury, the only 
metal liquid at ordinary temperatures, as the seed 
of the metals. There are, indeed, other good 
reasons for this choice, but that this idea played 
some part in it, and, at least, was present at the back 
of the alchemists' minds, I have little doubt. 

The most philosophic account of metallic seed is 
that, perhaps, of the mysterious adept " Eiren/eus 
Philalethes," who distinguishes between it and 
mercury in a rather interesting manner. He writes : 
" Seed is the means of generic propagation given to 
all perfect things here below ; it is the perfection of 
each body ; and anybody that has no seed must be 
regarded as imperfect. Hence there can be no doubt 
that there is such a thing as metallic seed. . . . All 
metallic seed is the seed of gold ; for gold is the in- 
tention of Nature in regard to all metals. If the base 
metals are not gold, it is only through some accidental 
hindrance ; they are all potentially gold. But, of 
course, this seed of gold is most easily obtainable 
from well-matured gold itself. . . . Remember that 
I am now speaking of metallic seed, and not of 

^ The Answer of Bernardus Trevisanus, etc. Op. cit., 
p. 218. 2 Qp qH^ p 22, ^ Ibid., p. lO. 



I70 BYGONE BELIEFS 

Mercury. . . . The seed of metals is hidden out of 
sight still more completely than that of animals ; 
nevertheless, it is within the compass of our Art to 
extract it. The seed of animals and vegetables is 
something separate, and may be cut out, or other- 
wise separately exhibited ; but metallic seed is dif- 
fused throughout the metal, and contained in all its 
smallest parts ; neither can it be discerned from its 
body : its extraction is therefore a task which may 
well tax the ingenuity of the most experienced philo- 
sopher ; the virtues of the whole metal have to be 
intensified, so as to convert it into the sperm of our 
seed, which, by circulation, receives the virtues of 
superiors and inferiors, then next becomes wholly 
form, or heavenly virtue, which can communicate 
this to others related to it by homogeneity of matter. 
. . . The place in which the seed resides is — approxi- 
mately speaking — water ; for, to speak properly and 
exactly, the seed is the smallest part of the metal, 
and is invisible ; but as this invisible presence is 
diffused throughout the water of its kind, and exerts 
its virtue therein, nothing being visible to the eye 
but water, we are left to conclude from rational 
induction that this inward agent (which is, properly 
speaking, the seed) is really there. Hence we call 
the whole of the water seed, just as we call the whole 
of the grain seed, though the germ of life is only a 
smallest particle of the grain." ^ 

To say that " Philalethes' " seed resembles the 
modern electron is, perhaps, to draw a rather fanciful 
analogy, since the electron is a very precise idea, the 

^ EiREN^us Philalethes : The Metamorphosis of Metals. 
(See The Hermetic Museum, vol. ii. pp. 238-240.) 



To face p. 170. 



PLATE 22. 




Fig. 43. 

Symbolic Alchemical Design illustrating the Conjunction of Brother and 
Sister, from Michael Maier's Atalanta Fugiens (1617). 

(By permission of the British Museum. Photo by Donald Macbeth, London.) 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 171 

result of the mathematical interpretation of the results 
of exact experimentation. But though it would be 
absurd to speak of this concept of the one seed of all 
metals as an anticipation of the electron, to apply 
the expression '' metallic seed " to the electron, now 
that the concept of it has been reached, does not 
seem so absurd. 

According to " Philalethes," the extraction of 
the seed is a very difficult process, accomplishable, 
however, by the aid of mercury — the water homo- 
geneous therewith. Mercury, again, is the form of 
the seed thereby obtained. He writes : " When 
the sperm hidden in the body of gold is brought out 
by means of our Art, it appears under the form of 
Mercury, whence it is exalted into the quintessence 
which is first white, and then, by means of con- 
tinuous coction, becomes red." And again : " There 
is a womb into which the gold (if placed therein) 
will, of its own accord, emit its seed, until it is de- 
bilitated and dies, and by its death is renewed into 
a most glorious King, who thenceforward receives 
power to deliver all his brethren from the fear of 
death." 1 

The fifteenth-century alchemist Thomas Norton 
was peculiar in his views, inasmuch as he denied 
that metals have seed. He writes : " Nature never 
multiplies anything, except in either one or the other 
of these two ways : either by decay, which we call 
putrefaction, or, in the case of animate creatures, by 
propagation. In the case of metals there can be no 
propagation, though our Stone exhibits something 

1 EiRENiEus Philalethes : The Metamorphosis of Metals. 
(See The Hermetic Museum, vol. ii, pp. 241 and 244.) 



1 72 BYGONETBELIEFS 

like it. . . . Nothing can be multiplied by inward 
action unless it belong to the vegetable kingdom, 
or the family of sensitive creatures. But the metals 
are elementary objects, and possess neither seed nor 
sensation." ^ 

His theory of the origin of the metals is uStral rather 
than phallic. " The only efficient cause of metals," 
he says, '* is the mineral virtue, which is not found 
in every kind of earth, but only in certain places and 
chosen mines, into which the celestial sphere pours 
its rays in a straight direction year by year, and 
according to the arrangement of the metallic sub- 
stance in these places, this or that metal is gradually 
formed." ^ 

In view of the astrological symbolism of these 
metals, that gold should be masculine, silver feminine, 
does not surprise us, because the idea of the mas- 
culinity of the sun and the femininity of the moon 
is a bit of phallicism that still remains with us. It 
was by the marriage of gold and silver that very 
many alchemists considered that the magnum opus 
was to be achieved. Writes Bernard of Tr^visan : 
" The subject of this admired Science [alchemy] is 
Sol and Luna, or rather Male and Female, the Male 
is hot and dry, the Female cold and moyst." The 
aim of the work, he tells us, is the extraction of the 
spirit of gold, which alone can enter into bodies and 
tinge them. Both Sol and Luna are absolutely 
necessary, and " whoever . . . shall think that a 
Tincture can be made without these two Bodyes, 

1 Thomas Norton : The Ordinal of Alchemy. (See The 
Hermetic Museum, vol. ii. pp. 15 and 16.) 
^ Ibid., pp. 15 and 16, 



To face p. 172 



PLATE 23. 




Fig. 44. 

Symbolic Alchemical Design illustrating Lactation, from Maier's 
Atalanta Fiigiens. 

{By permission of the British Museum. Photo by Donald Macbeth, London.) 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 173 

... he proceedeth to the Practice Hke one that is 
blind." 1 

Kelly has teaching to the same effect, the Mercury 
of the Philosophers being for him the menstruum or 
medium wherein the copulation of Gold with Silver 
is to be accomplished. Mercury, in fact, seems to 
have been everything and to have been capable of 
effecting everything in the eyes of the alchemists. 
Concerning gold and silver, Kelly writes : " Only 
one metal, viz. gold, is absolutely perfect and mature. 
Hence it is called the perfect male body. . . Silver 
is less bounded by aqueous immaturity than the rest 
of the metals, though it may indeed be regarded as 
to a certain extent impure, still its water is already 
covered with the congealing vesture of its earth, and 
it thus tends to perfection. This condition is the 
reason why silver is everywhere called by the Sages 
the perfect female body." And later he writes : 
*' In short, our whole Magistery consists in the union 
of the male and female, or active and passive, elements 
through the mediation of our metallic water and a 
proper degree of heat. Now, the male and female 
are two metallic bodies, and this I will again prove 
by irrefragable quotations from the Sages." Some 
of the quotations will be given : " Avicenna : 
* Purify husband and wife separately, in order that 
they may unite more intimately ; for if you do not 
purify them, they cannot love each other. By con- 
junction of the two natures you get a clear and lucid 
nature, which, when it ascends, becomes bright and 
serviceable.' . . . Senior : 'I, the Sun, am hot 

^ Bernard, Earl of Trevisan : A Treatise, etc., Op. cit., 
pp. 83 and 87. 



174 BYGONE BELIEFS 

and dry, and thou, the Moon, are cold and moist ; 
when we are wedded together in a closed chamber, I 
will gently steal away thy soul.' . . . Rosinus : 
' When the Sun, my brother, for the love of me 
(silver) pours his sperm {i.e. his solar fatness) into 
the chamber (i.e. my Lunar body), namely, when we 
become one in a strong and complete complexion 
and union, the child of our wedded love will be born.' 
. . . ' Rosary ' : ' The ferment of the Sun is the 
sperm of the man, the ferment of the Moon, the 
sperm of the woman. Of both we get a chaste union 
and a true generation.' . . . Aristotle : ' Take your 
beloved son, and wed him to his sister, his white 
sister, in equal marriage, and give them the cup of 
love, for it is a food which prompts to union.' " ^ 
Kelly, of course, accepts the traditional authorship 
of the works from which he quotes, though in many 
cases such authorship is doubtful, to say the least. 
The alchemical works ascribed to Aristotle (384-322 
B.C.), for instance, are beyond question forgeries. In- 
deed, the symbol of a union between brother and 
sister, here quoted, could hardly be held as acceptable 
to Greek thought, to which incest was the most 
abominable and unforgiveable sin. It seems likelier 
that it originated with the Egyptians, to whom such 
unions were tolerable in fact. The symbol is often 
met with in Latin alchemy. Michael Maier (1568- 
1622) also says : " Conjunge fratrem cum sorore et 
propina illis poculum amoris,'^ the words forming a 
motto to a picture of a man and woman clasped in 
each other's arms, to whom an older man offers a 

^ Edward Kelly : The Stone of the Philosophers, Op. cit., 
pp. 13, 14, 33, 35, 36, 38-40, and 47. 



To face p. 174. 



PLATE 24. 




Fig. 43. 

Symbolic Alchemical Design illustrating the Conjunction of Gold and 
Silver (or Sun and Moon), from Maier's Atalanta Fiigiens. 

{By t>frmissioH of the British Miisciiin. Plicto by Donald Macbeth, London.) 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 175 

goblet. This symbolic picture occurs in his Atalanta 
FugienSy hoc est, Emblemata nova de Secretis Naturce 
Chymica, etc. (Oppenheim, 1617). This work is an 
exceedingly curious one. It consists of a number of 
carefully executed pictures, each accompanied by a 
motto, a verse of poetry set to music, with a prose 
text. Many of the pictures are phallic in conception, 
and practically all of them are anthropomorphic. 
Not only the primary function of sex, but especially 
its secondary one of lactation, is made use of. The 
most curious of these emblematic pictures, perhaps, 
is one symbolising the conjunction of gold and silver. 
It shows on the right a man and woman, representing 
the sun and moon, in the act of coition, standing up 
to the thighs in a lake. On the left, on a hill above 
the lake, a woman (with the moon as halo) gives birth 
to a child. A boy is coming out of the water towards 
her. The verse informs us that : *' The bath glows 
red at the conception of the boy, the air at his birth." 
We learn also that " there is a stone, and yet there is 
not, which is the noble gift of God. If God grants 
it, fortunate will be he who shall receive it." ^ 

Concerning the nature of gold, there is a discussion 
in The Answer o/Bernardus Trevisanus to the Epistle 
of Thomas of Bononia, with which I shall close my 
consideration of the present aspect of the subject. 
Its interest for us lies in the arguments which are 
used and held to be valid. " Besides, you say that 
Gold, as most think, is nothing else than Quick-silver 
coagulated naturally by the force of Sulphur ; yet 
so, that nothing of the Sulphur which generated the 
Gold, doth remain in the substance of the Gold : as 
1 Op. cit., p. 145. 



176 BYGONE BELIEFS 

in an humane Embryo^ when it is conceived in the 
Womb, there remains nothing of the Father's Seed, 
according to Aristotle^s opinion, but the Seed of the 
Man doth only coagulate the menstrual blood of the 
Woman : in the same manner you say, that after 
Quick-silver is so coagulated, the form of Gold is 
perfected in it, by virtue of the Heavenly Bodies, and 
especially of the Sun." ^ Bernard, however, decides 
against this view, holding that gold contains both 
mercury and sulphur, for " we must not imagine, 
according to their mistake who say, that the Male 
Agent himself approaches the Female in the coagu- 
lation, and departs afterwards ; because, as is known 
in every generation, the conception is active and 
passive : Both the active and the passive, that is, all 
the four Elements, must always abide together, 
otherwise there would be no mixture, and the hope of 
generating an off-spring would be extinguished." - 

In conclusion, I wish to say something of the role 
of sex in spiritual alchemy. But in doing this I am 
venturing outside the original field of inquiry of 
this essay and making a by no means necessary 
addition to my thesis ; and I am anxious that what 
follows should be understood as such, so that no 
confusion as to the issues may arise. 

In the great alchemical collection of J. J. Manget, 
there is a curious work (originally published in 1677), 
entitled Mutus Liber, which consists entirely of 
plates, without letterpress. Its interest for us in 
our present concern is that the alchemist, from the 
commencement of the work until its achievement, is 

^ Op. cit., pp. 206 and 207. 
2 Ibid., pp. 212 and 213. 



To face p. 176. 



PLATE 25 




Fig. 46. 
Symbolic Alchemical Design from Mxitiis Liber (1677). 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 177 

shown working in conjunction with a woman. We 
are reminded of Nicolas Flamel (1330-1418), 
who is reputed to have achieved the magnum opus 
together with his wife Pernelle, as well as of the 
raiany other women workers in the Art of whom we 
read. It would be of interest in this connection to 
know exactly what association of ideas was present 
in the mind of Michael Maier when he commanded 
the alchemist : " Perform a work of women on the 
molten white lead, that is, cook," ^ and illustrated 
his behest with a picture of a pregnant woman watch- 
ing a fire over which is suspended a cauldron and 
on which are three jars. There is a cat in the back- 
ground, and a tub containing two fish in the fore- 
ground, the whole forming a very curious collection 
of emblems. Mr Waite, who has dealt with some 
of these matters, luminously, though briefly, says : 
" The evidences with which we have been dealing 
concern solely the physical work of alchemy and 
there is nothing of its mystical aspects. The Mutiis 
Liber is undoubtedly on the literal side of metallic 
transmutation ; the memorials of Nicholas Flamel are 
also on that side," etc. He adds, however, that " It 
is on record that an unknown master testified to his 
possession of the mystery, but he added that he 
had not proceeded to the work because he had failed 
to meet with an elect woman who was necessary 
thereto " ; and proceeds to say : "I suppose that 
the statement will awaken in most minds only a vague 
sense of wonder, and I can merely indicate in a few 
general words that which I see behind it. Those 
Hermetic texts which bear a spiritual interpretation 

^ Michael Maier; AtalantalFugiens^{i6iy) , p. 97. 

12 



178 BYGONE BELIEFS 

and are as if a record of spiritual experience present, 
like the literature of physical alchemy, the following 
aspects of symbolism : (a) the marriage of sun and 
moon ; (b) of a mystical king and queen ; (c) an 
union between natures which are one at the root but 
diverse in manifestation ; (d) a transmutation which 
follows this union and an abiding glory therein. It 
is ever a conjunction between male and female in a 
mystical sense ; it is ever the bringing together by 
art of things separated by an imperfect order of 
things ; it is ever the perfection of natures by means 
of this conjunction. But if the mystical work of 
alchemy is an inward work in consciousness, then 
the union between male and female is an union in 
consciousness ; and if we remember the traditions 
of a state when male and female had not as yet been 
divided, it may dawn upon us that the higher alchemy 
was a practice for the return into this ineffable mode 
of being. The traditional doctrine is set forth in 
the Zohar and it is found in writers like Jacob 
Boehme ; it is intimated in the early chapters of 
Genesis and, according to an apocryphal saying of 
Christ, the kingdom of heaven will be manifested 
when two shall be as one, or when that state has been 
once again attained. In the light of this construction 
we can understand why the mystical adept went in 
search of a wise woman with whom the work could 
be performed ; but few there be that find her, and 
he confessed to his own failure. The part of 
woman in the physical practice of alchemy is like a 
reflection at a distance of this more exalted process, 
and there is evidence that those who worked in 
metals and sought for a material elixir knew that 



To face p. 178. 



PLATE 26. 




Fig. 47. 

Symbolic Alchemical Design illustrating the Work of Woman, from 
Maier's Atalanta Fugiens. 

(By permission of the British Museum. Photo by Donald Macbeth, London. ) 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY 179 

there were other and greater aspects of the Hermetic 
mystery." ^ 

So far Mr Waite, whose impressive words I have 
quoted at some length ; and he has given us a fuller 
account of the theory as found in the Zohar in his 
valuable work on The Secret Doctrine in Israel (191 3). 
The Zohar regards marriage and the performance 
of the sexual function in marriage as of supreme im- 
portance, and this not merely because marriage 
symbolises a divine union, unless that expression is 
held to include all that logically follows from the 
fact, but because, as it seems, the sexual act in 
marriage may, in fact, become a ritual of tran- 
scendental magic. 

At least three varieties of opinion can be traced 
from the view of sex we have under consideration, 
as to the nature of the perfect man, and hence of the 
most adequate symbol for transmutation. Accord- 
ing to one, and this appears to have been Jacob 
Boehme's view, the perfect man is conceived of as 
non-sexual, the male and female elements united in 
him having, as it were, neutralised each other. 
According to another, he is pictured as a hermaphro- 
ditic being, a concept we frequently come across in 
alchemical literature. It plays a prominent part in 
Maier's book Atalanta Fugiens, to which reference 
has already been made. Maier's hermaphrodite 
has two heads, one male, one female, but only one 
body, one pair of arms, and one pair of legs. The two 
sexual organs, which are placed side by side, are 
delineated in the illustrations with considerable care, 

^ A. E. Waite : " Woman and the Hermetic Mystery," The 
Occult Review (June 1912), vol. xv. pp. 325 and 326. 



i8o BYGONE BELIEFS 

showing the importance Maier attached to the idea. 
This concept seems to me not only crude, but un- 
natural and repellent. But it may be said of both 
the opinions I have mentioned, that they confuse 
between union and identity. It is the old mistake, 
with respect to a lesser goal, of those who hope for 
absorption in the Divine Nature and consequent loss 
of personality. It seems to be forgotten that a 
certain degree of distinction is necessary to the joy 
of union. " Distinction " and ** separation," it 
should be remembered, have different connotations. 
If the supreme joy is that of self-sacrifice, then the 
self must be such that it can be continually sacrificed, 
else the joy is a purely transitory one, or rather, is 
destroyed at the moment of its consummation. 
Hence, though sacrificed, the self must still remain 
itself. 

The third view of perfection, to which these re- 
marks naturally lead, is that which sees it typified 
in marriage. The mystic-philosopher Sweden- 
BORG has some exceedingly suggestive things to say 
on the matter in his extraordinary work on Conjugial 
Love, which, curiously enough, seem largely to 
have escaped the notice of students of these high 
mysteries. 

Swedenborg's heaven is a sexual heaven, because 
for him sex is primarily a spiritual fact, and only 
secondarily, and because of what it is primarily, a 
physical fact ; and salvation is hardly possible, 
according to him, apart from a genuine marriage 
(whether achieved here or hereafter). Man and 
woman are considered as complementary beings, 
and it is only through the union of one man with 



To face p. i8o. 



PLATE 27. 




Fig. 48. 

Symbolic Alchemical Design, Hermaphrodite, from Maier's Atalanta 

Fugieyis. 

(By permission of the British Museum. Photo by Doiuild Macbeth, London.) 



PHALLIC ELEMENT IN ALCHEMY i8i 

one woman that the perfect angel results. The altru- 
istic tendency of such a theory as contrasted with 
the egotism of one in which perfection is regarded 
as obtainable by each personality of itself alone, is a 
point worth emphasising. As to the nature of this 
union, it is, to use Swedenborg's own terms, a con- 
junction of the will of the wife with the understanding 
of the man, and reciprocally of the understanding 
of the man with the will of the wife. It is thus a 
manifestation of that fundamental marriage be- 
tween the good and the true which is at the root 
of all existence ; and it is because of this funda- 
mental marriage that all men and women are born 
into the desire to complete themselves by con- 
junction. The symbol of sexual intercourse is a 
legitimate one to use in speaking of this heavenly 
union ; indeed, we may describe the highest bliss 
attainable by the soul, or conceivable by the mind, 
as a spiritual orgasm. Into conjugial love " are 
collected," says Swedenborg, " all the blessednesses, 
blissfulnesses, delightsomenesses, pleasantnesses, 
and pleasures, which could possibly be conferred 
upon man by the Lord the Creator." ^ In another 
place he writes : " Married partners [in heaven] enjoy 
similar intercourse with each other as in the world, 
but more delightful and blessed ; yet without proli- 
fication, for which, or in place of which, they have 
spiritual prolification, which is that of love and wis- 
dom." " The reason," he adds, " why the inter- 
course then is more delightful and blessed is, that 
when conjugial love becomes of the spirit, it becomes 

^ Emanuel Swedenborg : The Delights of Wisdom relating 
to Conjugial Love (trans, by A. H. Searle, 1891), § 68. 



i82 BYGONE BELIEFS 

more interior and pure, and consequently more per- 
ceptible; and every delightsomeness grows accord- 
ing to the perception, and grows even until its blessed- 
ness is discernible in its delightsomeness." ^ Such 
love, however, he says, is rarely to be found on earth. 
A learned Japanese speaks with approval of 
Idealism as a " dream where sensuousness and 
spirituality find themselves to be blood brothers or 
sisters." ^ It is a statement which involves either 
the grossest and most dangerous error, or the pro- 
foundest truth, according to the understanding of it. 
Woman is a road whereby man travels either to God 
or the devil. The problem of sex is a far deeper 
problem than appears at first sight, involving 
mysteries both the direst and most holy. It is by 
no means a fantastic hypothesis that the inmost 
mystery of what a certain school of mystics calls " the 
Secret Tradition " was a sexual one. At any rate, 
the fact that some of those, at least, to whom alchemy 
connoted a mystical process, were alive to the pro- 
found spiritual significance of sex, renders of double 
interest what they have to intimate of the achieve- 
ment of the Magnum Opus in man. 

1 Emanuel Swedenborg: Op. cit., § 51. 

- YoNE NoGUCHi : The Spirit of Japanese Art (1915), p. 37. 



XI 

ROGER BACON : AN 
APPRECIATION 

It has been said that " a prophet is not without 
honour, save in his own country." Thereto might 
be added, *' and in his own time " ; for, whilst 
there is continuity in time, there is also evolution, 
and England of to-day, for instance, is not the same 
country as England of the Middle Ages. In his 
own day Roger Bacon was accounted a magician, 
whose heretical views called for suppression by the 
Church. And for many a long day afterwards was 
he mainly remembered as a co-worker in the black 
art with Friar Bungay, who together with him con- 
structed, by the aid of the devil and diabolical rites, 
a brazen head which should possess the power of 
speech — the experiment only failing through the 
negligence of an assistant.^ Such was Roger Bacon 
in the memory of the later Middle Ages and many 
succeeding years ; he was the typical alchemist, 

^ The story, of course, is entirely fictitious. For further 
particulars see Sir J. E. Sandys' essay on " Roger Bacon in 
English Literature," in Roger Bacon Essays (1914), referred to 
below. 

183 



i84 BYGONE BELIEFS 

where that term carries with it the depth of disrepute, 
though indeed alchemy was for him but one, and 
that not the greatest, of many interests. 

Ilchester, in Somerset, claims the honour of being 
the place of Roger Bacon's birth, which interesting 
and important event occurred, probably, in 1214. 
Young Bacon studied theology, philosophy, and 
what then passed under the name of " science," first 
at Oxford, then the centre of liberal thought, and 
afterwards at Paris, in the rigid orthodoxy of whose 
professors he found more to criticise than to admire. 
Whilst at Oxford he joined the Franciscan Order, 
and at Paris he is said, though this is probably an 
error, to have graduated as Doctor of Theology. 
During 1 250-1 256 we find him back in England, 
no doubt engaged in study and teaching. About 
the latter year, however, he is said to have been 
banished — on a charge of holding heterodox views 
and indulging in magical practices — to Paris, where 
he was kept in close confinement and forbidden to 
write. Mr Little,^ however, believes this to be an 
error, based on a misreading of a passage in one of 
Bacon's works, and that Roger was not imprisoned, 
but stricken with sickness. At any rate it is not im- 
probable that some restrictions as to his writing 
were placed on him by his superiors of the Franciscan 
Order. In 1266 Bacon received a letter from Pope 
Clement asking him to send His Holiness his works 
in writing without delay. This letter came as a most 
pleasant surprise to Bacon ; but he had nothing of 
importance written, and in great haste and excite- 

1 See his contribution, " On Roger Bacon's Life and Works," 

to Roger Bacon Essays. 



To face p. i 




-9f 



■^.>-^>y 



5iifim«Ji>ih^t?.' -^ jitnat^-^t loi^cm tent % mnetniSt "©awaW^ 





Roger Bacon presenting a Book to a King, from a Fifteenth-century 
Miniature in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. 

[Note. — There is no contemporary portrait of Roger Bacon known, so that the authenticity 
of every one of the portraits alleged to be of him is open to doubt. The two reproduced in 
figs. 49 and 50 are probably the oldest extant, and are therefore the most worthy of respect. 
That from the Bodleian Library is reproduced by kind permission of the authorities, and is, I 
think, the earliest known portrait of Bacon. The Knole Castle portrait (fig. 50) is by an un- 
known artist, probably of the Elizabethan period. It is reproduced by permission of Lady 
Sackville.] 



ROGER BACON: AN APPRECIATION 185 

ment, therefore, he composed three works expUcating 
his philosophy, the Opus Majtis, the Opus Minus, and 
the Opus Tertium, which were completed and dis- 
patched to the Pope by the end of the following year. 
This, as Mr Rowbottom remarks, is *' surely one 
of the literary feats of history, perhaps only surpassed 
by Swedenborg when he wrote six theological and 
philosophical treatises in one year." ^ 

The works appear to have been well received. 
We next find Bacon at Oxford writing his Compen- 
dium Studii Philosophice , in which work he indulged 
in some by no means unjust criticisms of the clergy, 
for which he fell under the condemnation of his 
order, and was imprisoned in 1277 on a charge of 
teaching '* suspected novelties ". In those days any 
knowledge of natural phenomena beyond that of the 
quasi-science of the times was regarded as magic, 
and no doubt some of Roger Bacon's '' suspected 
novelties " were of this nature ; his recognition of 
the value of the writings of non-Christian moralists 
was, no doubt, another " suspected novelty ". Appeals 
for his release directed to the Pope proved fruitless, 
being frustrated by Jerome D'Ascoli, General of 
the Franciscan Order, who shortly afterwards suc- 
ceeded to the Holy See under the title c f Nicholas 
IV. The latter died in 1292, whereupon Raymund 
Gaufredi, who had been elected General of the 
Franciscan Order, and who, it is thought, was well 
disposed towards Bacon, because of certain alchemical 
secrets the latter had revealed to him, ordered his 
release. Bacon returned to Oxford, where he wrote 

^ B. R. Rowbottom : " Roger Bacon," The Journal of the 
Alchemical Society, vol. ii. (1914), p. 77. 



i86 BYGONE BELIEFS 

his last work, the Compendium Studii TheologicB. 
He died either in this year or in 1294.^ 

It was not until the publication by Dr Samuel 
Jebb, in 1733, of the greater part of Bacon's Opus 
MajuSy nearly four and a half centuries after his 
death, that anything like his rightful position in the 
•history of philosophy began to be assigned to him. 
But let his spirit be no longer troubled, if it were 
ever troubled by neglect or slander, for the world, 
and first and foremost his own country, has paid 
him due honour. His septcentenary was duly cele- 
brated in 1 9 14 at his alma mater , Oxford, his statue 
has there been raised as a memorial to his greatness, 
and savants have meted out praise to him in no 
grudging tones.- Indeed, a voice has here and there 
been heard depreciating his better-known namesake 
Francis,^ so that the later luminary should not, 
standing in the way, obscure the light of the earlier ; 
though, for my part, I would suggest that one need 
not be so one-eyed as to fail to see both lights at once. 

To those who like to observe coincidences, it may 

^ For further details concerning Bacon's life, Emile 
Charles : Roger Bacon, sa Vie, ses Ouvrages, ses Doctrines 
(1861) ; J. H. Bridges : The Life S' Work of Roger Bacon, an 
Introduction to the Opus Majus (edited by H. G. Jones, 1914) ; 
and Mr A. G. Little's essay in Roger Bacon Essays, may be 
consulted. 

2 See Roger Bacon, Essays contributed by various Writers on 
the Occasion of the Commemoration of the Seventh Centenary of 
his Birth. Collected and edited by A. G. Little (1914) ; also 
Sir J. E. Sandys' Roger Bacon (from The Proceedings of the 
British Association, vol. vi., 1914). 

3 For example, that of Ernst Duhring. See an article 
entitled " The Two Bacons," translated from his Kritische 
Geschichte der Philosophie in The Open Court for August 1914. 



ROGER BACON: AN APPRECIATION 187 

be of interest that the septcentenary of the discoverer 
of gunpowder should have coincided with the out- 
break of the greatest war under which the world has 
yet groaned, even though gunpowder is no longer 
employed as a military propellant. 

Bacon's reference to gunpowder occurs in his 
Epistola de Secretis Operibus Artis et Naturce, et de 
Nullitate Magice (Hamburg, 161 8) a little tract 
written against magic, in which he endeavours to 
show, and succeeds very well in the first eight 
chapters, that Nature and art can perform far more 
extraordinary feats than are claimed by the workers 
in the black art. The last three chapters are written 
in an alchemical jargon of which even one versed 
in the symbolic language of alchemy can make no 
sense. They are evidently cryptogramic, and prob- 
ably deal with the preparation and purification of 
saltpetre, which had only recently been discovered 
as a distinct body.^ In chapter xi. there is refer- 
ence to an explosive body, which can only be gun- 
powder ; by means of it, says Bacon, you may, " if 
you know the trick, produce a bright flash and a 
thundering noise." He mentions two of the in- 
gredients, saltpetre and sulphur, but conceals the 
third {i.e. charcoal) under an anagram. Claims 
have, indeed, been put forth for the Greek, Arab, 
Hindu, and Chinese origins of gunpowder, but a 
close examination of the original ancient accounts 
purporting to contain references to gunpowder, 

^ For an attempted explanation of this cryptogram, and 
evidence that Bacon was the discoverer of gunpowder, see 
Lieut.-Col. H. W. L. Hime's Gunpowder and Ammunition: their 
Origin and Progress (1904). 



1 88 BYGONE BELIEFS 

shows that only incendiary and not explosive 
bodies are really dealt with. But whilst Roger 
Bacon knew of the explosive property of a mixture 
in right proportions of sulphur, charcoal, and pure 
saltpetre (which he no doubt accidentally hit upon 
whilst experimenting with the last-named body), he 
was unaware of its projective power. That dis- 
covery, so detrimental to the happiness of man ever 
since, was, in all probability, due to Berthold 
ScHWARZ about 1330. 

Roger Bacon has been credited ^ with many other 
discoveries. In the work already referred to he 
allows his imagination freely to speculate as to the 
wonders that might be accomplished by a scientific 
utilisation of Nature's forces — marvellous things with 
lenses, in bringing distant objects near and so forth, 
carriages propelled by mechanical means, flying 
machines . . . — but in no case is the word '* dis- 
covery " in any sense applicable, for not even in the 
case of the telescope does Bacon describe means by 
which his speculations might be realised. 

On the other hand, Roger Bacon has often been 
maligned for his beliefs in astrology and alchemy, but, 
as the late Dr Bridges (who was quite sceptical of the 
claims of both) pointed out, not to have believed in 
them in Bacon's day would have been rather an 
evidence of mental weakness than otherwise. What 
relevant facts were known supported alchemical and 
astrological hypotheses. Astrology, Dr Bridges 
writes, " conformed to the first law of Comte's 

1 For instance by Mr M. M. P. jMuir. See his contribution, 
on " Roger Bacon : His Relations to Alchemy and Chemistry," 
to Roger Bacon Essays. 



To face p. i 



PLATE 29. 




Fig. 50. 
Roger Bacon, from a Portrait in Knole Castle. 

(Copyright by C. Essenheigh-Corke, Sevenoaks. See Note on Plate 28. 



ROGER BACON: AN APPRECIATION 189 

philosophia prima^ as being the best hypothesis of 
which ascertained phenomena admitted."^ And in 
his alchemical speculations Bacon was much in 
advance of his contemporaries, and stated problems 
which are amongst those of modern chemistry. 

Roger Bacon's greatness does not lie in the fact 
that he discovered gunpowder, nor in the further 
fact that his speculations have been validated by 
other men. His greatness lies in his secure grip of 
scientific method as a combination of mathematical 
reasoning and experiment. Men before him had 
experimented, but none seemed to have realised the 
importance of the experimental method. Nor was 
he, of course, by any means the first mathematician — 
there was a long line of Greek and Arabian mathema- 
ticians behind him, men whose knowledge of the 
science was in many cases much greater than his — 
or the most learned mathematician of his day ; but 
none realised the importance of mathematics as an 
organon of scientific research as he did ; and he was 
assuredly the priest who joined mathematics to ex- 
periment in the bonds of sacred matrimony. We 
must not, indeed, look for precise rules of inductive 
reasoning in the works of this pioneer writer on 
scientific method. Nor do we find really satis- 
factory rules of induction even in the works of 
Francis Bacon. Moreover, the latter despised 
mathematics, and it was not until in quite recent 
years that the scientific world came to realise that 
Roger's method is the more fruitful — witness the 
modern revolution in chemistry produced by the 
adoption of mathematical methods. 
1 Op. cit., p. 84. 



190 



BYGONE BELIEFS 



Roger Bacon, it may be said, was many centuries 
in advance of his time ; but it is equally true that he 
was the child of his time ; this may account for his 
defects judged by modern standards. He owed not 
a little to his contemporaries : for his knowledge and 
high estimate of philosophy he was largely indebted 
to his Oxford master Grosseteste {c. i 175-1253), 
whilst Peter Peregrinus, his friend at Paris, fostered 
his love of experiment, and the Arab mathematicians, 
whose works he knew, inclined his mind to mathe- 
matical studies. He was violently opposed to the 
scholastic views current in Paris at his time, and 
attacked great thinkers like Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225- 
1274) and Albertus Magnus (i 193-1280), as well 
as obscurantists, such as Alexander of Hales {ob. 
1245). But he himself was a scholastic philosopher, 
though of no servile type, taking part in scholastic 
arguments. If he declared that he would have all 
the works of Aristotle burned, it was not because 
he hated the Peripatetic's philosophy — though he 
could criticise as well as appreciate at times, — but 
because of the rottenness of the translations that 
were then used. It seems commonplace now, but 
it was a truly wonderful thing then : Roger Bacon 
believed in accuracy, and was by no means destitute 
of literary ethics. He believed in correct translation, 
correct quotation, and the acknowledgment of the 
sources of one's quotations — unheard-of things, 
almost, in those days. But even he was not free 
from all the vices of his age : in spite of his insistence 
upon experimental verification of the conclusions of 
deductive reasoning, in one place, at least, he adopts 
a view concerning lenses from another writer, of 



ROGER BACON: AN APPRECIATION 191 

which the simplest attempt at such verification would 
have revealed the falsity. For such lapses, however, 
we can make allowances. 

Another and undeniable claim to greatness rests 
on Roger Bacon's broad-mindedness. He could 
actually value at their true worth the moral philo- 
sophies of non-Christian writers— Seneca {c. 5 b.c- 
A.D. 65) and Al Ghazzali (1058-1111), for instance. 
But if he was catholic in the original meaning of that 
term, he was also catholic in its restricted sense. He 
was no heretic : the Pope for him was the Vicar of 
Christ, whom he wished to see reign over the whole 
world, not by force of arms, but by the assimilation 
of all that was worthy in that world. To his mind — 
and here he was certainly a child of his age, in its best 
sense, perhaps — all other sciences were handmaidens 
to theology, queen of them all. All were to be sub- 
servient to her aims : the Church he called " Catho- 
lic " was to embrace in her arms all that was worthy 
in the works of " profane " writers — true prophets 
of God, he held, in so far as writing worthily they 
unconsciously bore testimony to the truth of Chris- 
tianity, — and all that Nature might yield by patient 
experiment and speculation guided by mathematics. 
Some minds see in this a defect in his system, which 
limited his aims and outlook ; others see it as the 
unifying principle giving coherence to the whole. 
At any rate, the Church, as we have seen, regarded 
his views as dangerous, and restrained his pen for 
at least a considerable portion of his life. 

Roger Bacon may seem egotistic in argument, but 
his mind was humble to learn. He was not super- 
stitious, but he would listen to common folk who 



192 BYGONE BELIEFS 

worked with their hands, to astrologers, and even 
magicians, denying nothing which seemed to him 
to have some evidence in experience : if he denied 
much of magical belief, it was because he found it 
lacking in such evidence. He often went astray in 
his views ; he sometimes failed to apply his own 
method, and that method was, in any case, primitive 
and crude. But it was the right method, in embryo 
at least, and Roger Bacon, in spite of tremendous 
opposition, greater than that under which any man 
of science may now suffer, persisted in that method 
to the end, calling upon his contemporaries to adopt 
it as the only one which results in right knowledge. 
Across the centuries — or, rather, across the gulf that 
divides this world from the next — let us salute this 
great and noble, spirit. 



XII 
THE CAMBRIDGE PLATONISTS 

There is an opinion, unfortunately very common, 
that religious mysticism is a product of the emotional 
temperament, and is diametrically opposed to the 
spirit of rationalism. No doubt this opinion is not 
without some element of justification, and one could 
quote the works of not a few religious mystics to the 
effect that self-surrender to God implies, not merely 
a giving up of will, but also of reason. But that this 
teaching is not an essential element in mysticism, 
that it is, indeed, rather its perversion, there is 
adequate evidence to demonstrate. Swedenborg is, 
I suppose, the outstanding instance of an intellectual 
mystic ; but the essential unity of mysticism and 
rationalism is almost as forcibly made evident in the 
case of the Cambridge Platonists. That little band 
of " Latitude men," as their contemporaries called 
them, constitutes one of the finest schools of philo- 
sophy that England has produced ; yet their works 
are rarely read, I am afraid, save by specialists. 
Possibly, however, if it were more commonly 
known what a wealth of sound philosophy and 

193 13 



194 BYGONE BELIEFS 

true spiritual teaching they contain, the case would 
be otherwise. 

The Cambridge Platonists — Benjamin Which- 
coTE, John Smith, Nathanael Culverwel, Ralph 
CuDWORTH, and Henry More are the more out- 
standing names — were educated as Puritans ; but 
they clearly realised the fundamental error of Puri- 
tanism, which tended to make a man's eternal salva- 
tion depend upon the accuracy and extent of his 
beliefs ; nor could they approve of the exaggerated 
import given by the High Church party to matters 
of Church polity. The term " Cambridge Platon- 
ists " is, perhaps, less appropriate than that of 
** Latitudinarians," which latter name emphasises 
their broad-mindedness (even if it carries with it 
something of disapproval). For although they owed 
much to Plato, and, perhaps, more to Plotinus 
{c. a.d. 203-262), they were Christians first and 
Platonists afterwards, and, with the exception, 
perhaps, of More, they took nothing from these 
philosophers which was not conformable to the 
Scriptures. 

Benjamin Whichcote was born in 1609, at 
Whichcote Hall, in the parish of Stoke, Shropshire. 
In 1626 he entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, 
then regarded as the chief Puritan college of the 
University. Here his college tutor was Anthony 
TuCKNEY ( 1 599-1 670), a man of rare character, com- 
bining learning, wit, and piety. Between Which- 
cote and TuCKNEY there grew up a firm friendship, 
founded on mutual aff"ection and esteem. But 
TucKNEY was unable to agree with all Whichcote's 
broad-minded views concerning reason and authority; 



To face p. 194. 



PLATE 30. 




ii!:!::::;i:|ll{!il!,l!i!tii!l!illllillliiili 

Beiiiamin Whichcot ^ .^.T.Profefsor-' 

Fig. 51. 
Benjamin Whichcote, from an engraved Portrait by Robert White. 



THE CAMBRIDGE PLATONISTS 195 

and in later years this gave rise to a controversy 
between them, in which Tuckney sought to contro- 
vert Whichcote's opinions : it was, however, carried 
on without acrimony, and did not destroy their 
friendship. 

Whichcote became M.A., and was elected a fellow 
of his college, in 1633, having obtained his B.A. 
four years previously. He was ordained by John 
Williams in 1636, and received the important 
appointment of Sunday afternoon lecturer at Trinity 
Church. His lectures, which he gave with the object 
of turning men's minds from polemics to the great 
moral and spiritual realities at the basis of the Chris- 
tian religion, from mere formal discussions to a true 
searching into the reason of things, were well attended 
and highly appreciated ; and he held the appoint- 
ment for twenty years. In 1634 he became college 
tutor at Emmanuel. He possessed all the charac- 
teristics that go to make up an efficient and well- 
beloved tutor, and his personal influence was such 
as to inspire all his pupils, amongst whom were both 
John Smith and Nathanael Culverwel, who con- 
siderably amplified his philosophical and religious 
doctrines. In 1640 he became B.D., and nine years 
after was created D.D. The college living of North 
Cadbury, in Somerset, was presented to him in 1643, 
and shortly afterwards he married. In the next 
year, however, he was recalled to Cambridge, and 
installed as Provost of King's College in place of 
the ejected Dr Samuel Collins. But it was greatly 
against his wish that he received the appointment, 
and he only consented to do so on the condition that 
part of his stipend should be paid to Collins — an 



196 BYGONE BELIEFS 

act which gives us a good insight into the character 
of the man. In 1650 he resigned North Cadbury, 
and the Uving was presented to Cudworth (see 
below), and towards the end of this year he was 
elected Vice-Chancellor of the University in suc- 
cession to TuCKNEY. It was during his Vice- 
Chancellorship that he preached the sermon that 
gave rise to the controversy with the latter. About 
this time also he was presented with the living 
of Milton, in Cambridgeshire. At the Restoration 
he was ejected from the Provostship, but, having 
complied with the Act of Uniformity, he was, in 
1662, appointed to the cure of St Anne's, Blackfriars. 
This church being destroyed in the Great Fire, 
Whichcote retired to Milton, where he showed 
great kindness to the poor. But some years later 
he returned to London, having received the vicarage 
of St Lawrence, Jewry. His friends at Cambridge, 
however, still saw him on occasional visits, and it 
was on one such visit to Cudworth, in 1683, that 
he caught the cold which caused his death. 

John Smith was born at Achurch, near Oundle, 
in 1618. He entered Emmanuel College in 1636, 
became B.A. in 1640, and proceeded to M.A. in 
1644, in which year he was appointed a fellow of 
Queen's College. Here he lectured on arithmetic 
with considerable success. He was noted for his 
great learning, especially in theology and Oriental 
languages, as well as for his justness, uprightness, 
and humility. He died of consumption in 1652. 

Nathanael Culverwel was probably born about 
the same year as Smith. He entered Emmanuel 
College in 1633, gained his B.A. in 1636, and 



THE CAMBRIDGE PLATONISTS 197 

became M.A. in 1640. Soon afterwards he was 
elected a fellow of his college. He died about 
1 65 1. Beyond these scant details, nothing is known 
of his life. He was a man of very great erudition, 
as his posthumous treatise on The Light of Nature 
makes evident. 

Henry More was born at Grantham in 1614. 
From his earliest days he was interested in theological 
problems, and his precociousness in this respect 
appears to have brought down on him the wrath of 
an uncle. His early education was conducted at 
Eton. In 1 63 1 he entered Christ's College, Cam- 
bridge, graduated B.A. in 1635, and received his 
M.A. in 1639. I^ the latter year he was elected a 
fellow of Christ's and received Holy Orders. He 
lived a very retired life, refusing all preferment, 
though many valuable and honourable appointments 
were offered to him. Indeed, he rarely left Christ's, 
except to visit his *' heroine pupil," Lady Conway, 
whose country seat, Ragley, was in Warwickshire. 
Lady Conway {ob. 1679) appears to be remembered 
only for the fact that, dying whilst her husband was 
away, her physician, F. M. van Helmont (161 8-1 699) 
(son of the famous alchemist, J. B. van Helmont, 
whom we have met already on these excursions), 
preserved her body in spirits of wine, so that he 
could have the pleasure of beholding it on his return. 
She seems to have been a woman of considerable 
learning, though not free from fantastic ideas. Her 
ultimate conversion to Quakerism was a severe blow 
to More, who, whilst admiring the holy lives of the 
Friends, regarded them as enthusiasts. More died 
in 1687. 



198 BYGONE BELIEFS 

More's earliest works were in verse, and exhibit 
fine feeling. The following lines, quoted from a 
poem on " Charitie and Humilitie," are full of charm, 
and well exhibit More's character : — 

" Farre have 1 clambred in my mind 
But nought so great as love I find : 
Deep-searching wit, mount-moving might, 
Are nought compar'd to that great spright. 
Life of DeHght and soul of blisse ! 
Sure source of lasting happinesse ! 
Higher than Heaven ! lower than hell ! 
What is thy tent ? Where maist thou dwell ? 

My mansion hight humilitie, 
Heaven's vastest capabilitie 
The further it doth downward tend 
The higher up it doth ascend ; 
If it go down to utmost nought 
It shall return with that it sought." ^ 

Later he took to prose, and it must be confessed 
that he wrote too much and frequently descended 
to polemics (for example, his controversy with the 
alchemist Thomas Vaughan, in which both com- 
batants freely used abuse). 

Although in his main views More is thoroughly 
characteristic of the school to which he belonged, 
many of his less important opinions are more or less 
peculiar to himself. 

The relation between More's and Descartes' 
( 1 596-1 650) theories as to the nature of spirit is 
interesting. When More first read Descartes' 

^ See The Life of the Learned and Pious Dr Henry More 
. . . by Richard Ward, A.M., to which are annexed Divers 
Philosophical Poems and Hymns. Edited by M. F. Howard 
iiQii), pp. 250 and 251. 



To face p. 198. 



PLATE 31 




%'- :^^^A ^'^^c'/^lCvm(:m.\.n^t.i;.s ^^s^.^.c,;. 



Fig. 52. 
Henry More, from a Portrait by David Loggan, engraved ad vivum, 1679. 



THE CAMBRIDGE PLATONISTS 199 

works he was favourably impressed with his views, 
though without entirely agreeing with him on all 
points ; but later the difference became accentuated. 
Descartes regarded extension as the chief charac- 
teristic of matter, and asserted that spirit was extra- 
spatial. To More this seemed like denying the 
existence of spirit, which he regarded as extended, 
and he postulated divisibility and impenetrability as 
the chief characteristics of matter. In order, how- 
ever, to get over some of the inherent difficulties of 
this view, he put forward the suggestion that spirit 
is extended in four dimensions : thus, its apparent 
(i.e. three-dimensional) extension can change, whilst 
its true (i.e. four-dimensional) extension remains con- 
stant ; just as the surface of a piece of metal can be 
increased by hammering it out, without increasing 
the volume of the metal. Here, I think, we have a 
not wholly inadequate symbol of the truth ; but it 
remained for Berkeley (1685-1753) to show the 
essential validity of Descartes' position, by de- 
monstrating that, since space and extension are 
perceptions of the mind, and thus exist only in 
the mind as ideas, space exists in spirit : not 
spirit in space. 

More was a keen believer in witchcraft, and 
eagerly investigated all cases of these and like marvels 
that came under his notice. In this he was largely 
influenced by Joseph Glanvil (i 636-1 680), whose 
book on witchcraft, the well-known Saducismus 
TriumphatuSy More largely contributed to, and prob- 
ably edited. More was wholly unsuited for psy- 
chical research ; free from guile himself, he was 
too inclined to judge others to be of this nature also. 



200 BYGONE BELIEFS 

But his common sense and critical attitude towards 
enthusiasm saved him, no doubt, from many falls 
into the mire of fantasy. 

As Principal Tulloch has pointed out, whilst 
More is the most interesting personality amongst 
the Cambridge Platonists, his works are the least 
interesting of those of his school. They are dull 
and scholastic, and More's retired existence pre- 
vented him from grasping in their fulness some of 
the more acute problems of life. His attempt to 
harmonise catastrophes with Providence, on the 
ground that the evil of certain parts may be neces- 
sary for the good of the whole, just as dark colours, 
as well as bright, are essential to the beauty of a 
picture — a theory which is practically the same as 
that of modern Absolutism,^ — is a case in point. 
No doubt this harmony may be accomplished, but 
in another key. 

Ralph Cudworth was born at Aller, in Somerset- 
shire, in 1617. He entered Emmanuel College in 
1632, three years afterwards gained his B.A., and 
became M.A. in 1639. In the latter year he was 
elected a fellow of his college. Later he obtained 
the B.D. degree. In 1645 he was appointed Master 
of Clare Hall, in place of the ejected Dr Pashe, and 
was elected Regius Professor of Hebrew. On 31st 
March 1647 he preached a sermon of remarkable 
eloquence and power before the House of Commons, 
which admirably expresses the attitude of his school 
as concerns the nature of true religion. I shall refer 
to it again later. In 1650 Cudworth was presented 

^ Cy. Bernard Bosanquet, LL.D., D.C.L. : The Principle 
of Individuality and Value (1912). 



To face p. 200. 



PLATE 32. 




Fig. 52,- 
Ralph Cudworth, from an engraved Portrait by Vertue, after Loggan, 
forming the Frontispiece to Cudworth's Treatise Concerning 
Morality (1731). 

{By permission of the British Museum. Photo by Donald Macbeth, London.) 



THE CAMBRIDGE PLATONISTS 201 

with the college living of North Cadbury, which 
Whichcote had resigned, and was made D.D. in the 
following year. In 1654 he was elected Master of 
Christ's College, with an improvement in his financial 
position, there having been some difficulty in obtain- 
ing his stipend at Clare Hall . In this year he married . 
In 1662 Bishop Sheldon presented him with the 
rectory of Ashwell, in Hertfordshire. He died in 
1688. He was a pious man of fine intellect ; but 
his character was marred by a certain suspiciousness 
which caused him wrongfully to accuse More, in 
1665, of attempting to forestall him in writing a work 
on ethics, which should demonstrate that the prin- 
ciples of Christian morality are not based on any 
arbitrary decrees of God, but are inherent in the 
nature and reason of things. Cudworth's great 
work — or, at least, the first part, which alone was 
completed, — The Intellectual System of the World, 
appeared in 1678. In it Cudworth deals with 
atheism on the ground of reason, demonstrating its 
irrationality. The book is remarkable for the fair- 
ness and fulness with which Cudworth states the 
arguments in favour of atheism. 

So much for the lives and individual characteristics 
of the Cambridge Platonists : what were the great 
principles that animated both their lives and their 
philosophy ? These, I think, were two : first, the 
essential unity of religion and morality ; second, the 
essential unity of revelation and reason. 

With clearer perception of ethical truth than either 
Puritan or High Churchman, the Cambridge Platon- 
ists saw that true Christianity is neither a matter 
of mere belief, nor consists in the mere performance 



202 BYGONE BELIEFS 

of good works ; but is rather a matter of character. 
To them Christianity connoted regeneration. " Re- 
ligion," says Whichcote, " is the Frame and Temper 
of our Minds, and the Rule of our Lives " ; and 
again, " Heaven is first a Temper, and then a Place." ^ 
To the man of heavenly temper, they taught, the 
performance of good works would be no irksome 
matter imposed merely by a sense of duty, but would 
be done spontaneously as a delight. To drudge in 
religion may very well be necessary as an initial 
stage, but it is not its perfection. 

In his sermon before the House of Commons, 
CuDWORTH well exposes the error of those who made 
the mere holding of certain beliefs the essential 
element in Christianity. There are many passages 
I should like to quote from this eloquent discourse, 
but the following must suffice : " We must not judge 
of our knowing of Christ, by our skill in Books and 
Papers, but by our keeping of his Commandments. 
... He is the best Christian, whose heart beats with 
the truest pulse towards heaven ; not he whose head 
spinneth out the finest cobwebs. He that endeavours 
really to mortifie his lusts, and to comply with that 
truth in his life, which his Conscience is convinced 
of ; is neerer a Christian, though he never heard of 
Christ ; then he that believes all the vulgar Articles 
of the Christian faith, and plainly denyeth Christ in 
his life. . . . The great Mysterie of the Gospel, it 
doth not lie only in Christ without us, (though we 
must know also what he hath done for us) but the 

^ My quotations from Whichcote and Smith are taken from 
the selection of their discourses edited by E. T. Campagnac, 
M.A. (1901). 



THE CAMBRIDGE PLATONISTS 203 

very Pith and Kernel of it, consists in Christ inwardly 
formed in our hearts. Nothing is truly Ours, but 
what lives in our Spirits. Salvation it self cannot 
save us, as long as it is onely without us ; no more 
then Health can cure us, and make us sound, when it 
is not within us, but somewhere at distance from 
us ; no more than Arts and Sciences, whilst they lie 
onely in Books and Papers without us ; can make us 
learned." ^ 

The Cambridge Platonists were not ascetics ; their 
moral doctrine was one of temperance. Their sound 
wisdom on this point is well evident in the following 
passage from Whichcote : " What can be alledged 
for Intemperance ; since Nature is content with very 
few things ? Why should any one over-do in this 
kind } A Man is better in Health and Strength, if he 
be temperate. We enjoy ourselves more in a sober 
and temperate Use of ourselves." ^ 

The other great principle animating their philo- 
sophy was, as I have said, the essential unity of reason 
and revelation. To those who argued that self- 
surrender implied a giving up of reason, they replied 
that " To go against Reason, is to go against God : 
it is the self same thing, to do that which the Reason 
of the Case doth require ; and that which God Him- 
self doth appoint : Reason is the Divine Governor of 
Man's Life ; it is the very Voice of God."^ Reason, 

^ Ralph Cudworth, B.D. : A Sermon Preached before the 
Honourable House of Commons at Westminster, Mar. 31, 1647 
(ist edn.), pp. 3, 14, 42, and 43. 

2 Benjamin Whichcote : The Venerable Nature and Tran- 
scendant Benefit of Christian Religion. Op. cit., p. 40. 

3 Benjamin Whichcote : Moral and Religious Aphorisms. 
Op. cit., p. 67. 



204 BYGONE BELIEFS 

Conscience, and the Scriptures, these, taught the 
Cambridge Platonists, testify of one another and 
are the true guides which alone a man should follow. 
All other authority they repudiated. But true reason 
is not merely sensuous, and the only way whereby it 
may be gained is by the purification of the self from 
the desires that draw it away from the Source of all 
Reason. " God," writes More, " reserves His 
choicest secrets for the purest Minds," adding his 
conviction that '* true Holiness [is] the only safe 
Entrance into Divine Knowledge." Or as Smith, 
who speaks of ** a Good life as the Prolepsis and 
Fundamental principle of Divine Science,'' puts it, 
*' . . . if ... Knowledge be not attended with 
Humility and a deep sense of Self-penury and Self- 
emptiness^ we may easily fall short of that True 
Knowledge of God which we seem to aspire 
after." ^ Right Reason, however, they taught, is 
the product of the sight of the soul, the true 
mystic vision. 

In what respects, it may be asked in conclusion, 
is the philosophy of the Cambridge Platonists open 
to criticism ? They lacked, perhaps, a sufficiently 
clear concept of the Church as a unity, and although 
they clearly realised that Nature is a symbol which 
it is the function of reason to interpret spiritually, 
they failed, I think, to appreciate the value of symbols. 
Thus they have little to teach with respect to the 
Sacraments of the Church, though, indeed, the 
highest view, perhaps, is that which regards every act 

^ John Smith : A Discourse concerning the true Way or 
Method of attaining to Divine Knowledge. Op. cit., pp. 80 
and 96. 



THE CAMBRIDGE PLATONISTS 205 

as potentially a sacrament ; and, whilst admiring 
his morality, they criticised Boehme as an enthusiast. 
But, although he spoke in a very different language, 
spiritually he had much in common with them. 
Compared with what is of positive value in their 
philosophy, however, the defects of the Cambridge 
Platonists are but comparatively slight. I commend 
their works to lovers of spiritual wisdom. 



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VOICES FROM THE VOID. A Record of Six Years' 

Experience with the Ouija Board, By Hester Tkaver.s Smith. 

W^ith Introduction by Sir William F. Barrett, F. R.S. Crown 8vo, 

cloth. 3s. 6d. net. 

"The book is one of those which really help the study of this difficult subject." — The 

Times. 

WILLIAM RIDER & SON, LTD., 

8 Paternoster Row, London, E.C. 4. 



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